Burnt Church fishery would destroy stocks

October 10, 2000

 I am writing in response to Janice Harvey's column "Burnt Church and the Twilight Zone of Miramichi Bay" (Sept. 27). I am usually indifferent to editorials and have never responded to an opinion piece; however, Ms. Harvey's article prompts a response.

Ms. Harvey asserts that the DFO and Herb Dhaliwal negotiated in bad faith during the mediation process, which was facilitated by Bob Rae.

"DFO did not seem to have a negotiating position when the mediation talks began. The official public line was and remains that the native fishery in Miramichi Bay is illegal and must end," she wrote. This statement is simply not true.

Natives are allowed a small fishery for food and ceremonial purposes. This has been reiterated numerous times by both Mr. Dhaliwal and DFO officials, so it is difficult to understand how Ms. Harvey feels the government has no negotiating position.

Ms. Harvey accuses the DFO of being inflexible to compromise during the mediation process; however, it is the natives who refuse to compromise. Native fishermen are free to join non-natives in the spring lobster fishery, but this isn't enough. Burnt Church insists upon fishing in the fall when lobsters are closer to shore and molting, and thus much easier to trap.

In light of the collapse of the cod fishery, and the subsequent economic crisis it created, there shouldn't be any room for compromise when it comes to conservation of lobster stocks. I believe the fact that a trap count was required shows that natives have no idea how many traps they set and that they have little concern for conservation.

Ms. Harvey states, "It is easy for concern over lobster stocks to turn into nasty demonizing of an entire ethnic group." This conflict is over concern for lobster stocks; there is no sinister reason behind the closing of the native fishery except to preserve the lobster. As for demonizing of natives, one only needs to look at the exaggerated number of lobster traps and news images of warriors clad in army fatigues to realize that natives have demonized themselves.

Finally, I would like to address Ms. Harvey's charges of excessive force by the DFO and her comparison of their actions to that of police action during the APEC scandal. I am no expert in law enforcement, but I believe that the general rule of thumb is to use as much force as necessary to enforce the law. In other words, when someone is hurling bricks at you, that would warrant a little more force than a normal situation would. As was stated by one DFO official, law enforcement is never pretty. It is easy for observers to stand back and make accusations of brutality when they are far removed from the scene and have no idea about the dynamics of a situation such as the one faced by DFO.

At the end of Ms. Harvey's article it states that she is an environmentalist. She, above all people, should be concerned about the environment and its future. Therefore, how surprising it is to see that she is in favour of a native fishery that threatens to upset the ecological balance of lobster stocks in Miramichi Bay.

The stakes are high and decisive action is needed for the sake of this precious resource and its future. I can only hope that the softer opinions such as those expressed by Ms. Harvey don't win out in the end.