Burnt Church fishermen might consider alternative to gillnet

Wednesday, October 11, 2000

MIRAMICHI  - A Mi'kmaq spokesman says Burnt Church First Nation might look for something besides the gillnet to catch salmon in the Tabusintac River.

However, Lloyd Augustine said on Tuesday that the band council would not take such a step without consulting the community first.

He agreed this makes it unlikely that Burnt Church First Nation will make a decision on the issue before the end of the fall salmon fishery under way now.

Mr. Augustine, a member of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council and acting media spokesman for Burnt Church, was commenting on a demand by conservation groups that the federal government ban the gillnet from the aboriginal salmon fishery in New Brunswick.

The conservation groups say gillnets kill fish indiscriminately, unlike box trap nets which keep fish alive and make it possible to release egg-bearing females to spawn.

Unlike the fall lobster fishery which just ended in Miramichi Bay, Burnt Church and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans agree on much about the salmon fishery in the Tabusintac.

Both parties agree the Mi'kmaqs, who own reserve land on the Tabusintac, will set 13 gillnets and catch up to 416 salmon.

They disagree on whether the natives should mark these fish with tags issued by Burnt Church or the DFO.

They also disagree on whether or not the Mi'kmaqs can sell these fish - Burnt Church First Nation says they can, Fisheries and Oceans says they cannot.

"The whole issue behind it is being able to exercise our right and being able to regulate our own fishery," Mr. Augustine said.

But, gillnets are negotiable.

"In some parts we are in agreement to that . . . but it is something we know that is not going to be done overnight," Mr. Augustine said.

In fact, he said Mi'kmaqs at Burnt Church had already been talking about converting their salmon gear when the conservation groups raised the issue.

"As to box traps, it was something that we had been throwing around in the past," he said.

The Burnt Church fishery policy already bans salmon fishing from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon to allow spawners a chance to get upriver - and Mr. Augustine says converting to trap nets would extend the Mi'kmaq conservation ethic.

He contends the aboriginal fishery threatens neither salmon nor lobster stocks. He said large corporations and particularly trawling vessels catch more fish than the aboriginals.

"Native people are never a threat to conservation, but it's those big corporations that are always looking for someone to point a finger at," he said.

Burnt Church already plans community meetings for the end of this month on inviting former Ontario premier Bob Rae to resume his attempt to mediate a settlement in the war over lobster.

Mr. Augustine said gillnets might make it on to the agenda, too.

"Our policy, once again, conservation is our top priority. . . . I've seen gillnets work already and they kill pretty well indiscriminately," he said.

"It's something we're going to be discussing."