Lobster season opens peacefully: Natives, non-natives return to last year's Atlantic troublespot

The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday. April 30, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. Tempers here were as calm as the ocean yesterday, as the spring lobster season opened on New Brunswick's Miramichi Bay.

Burnt Church, the main trouble spot in the Maritime lobster fishery, was peaceful as native fishermen for the first time eased their boats onto the water alongside non-native fishermen.

It was a major test of the region's newly integrated fishery. Although there was some grumbling, especially from commercial fishermen in Prince Edward Island, there was no trouble.

''I think everything will go smoothly,'' said Roger Ward, a non-native fisherman from Neguac, N.B., as he loaded his boat at a wharf near Burnt Church.

''I think we have a good group of fishermen here and I don't think anything will explode. But it is up to the government to start doing their job.'' Anti- government feelings were expressed by all sides in the fishery.

The Mi'kmaq people of Burnt Church have deep reservations about the federal government's efforts to have them abide by federal rules. Non-native fishermen are unhappy with the way the Fisheries Department has handled the situation.

Fishermen at Malpeque Bay in P.E.I. called for the dismissal of federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal and a public inquiry into the way the department handled the Supreme Court of Canada's landmark decision in the Donald Marshall Jr. case.

The Supreme Court ruled that Mi'kmaq and Maliseet people have the right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing, hunting and gathering based on 18th-century treaties.

Burnt Church fishermen responded to the court ruling last fall by rushing out and setting thousands of lobster traps, even though the season was closed. Furious commercial fishermen responded by cutting and destroying many of the native traps, leading to a week-long spate of vandalism and violence on the reserve and in nearby communities.

A subsequent clarification by the court said the treaty right is subject to federal regulation.