Solution to fish crisis satisfies neither side

The Toronto Star
Monday, October 11, 1999

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Both sides in a violent battle over the East Coast lobster fishery say the federal government's solution to the crisis is not the answer they were looking for.

And at least one Maritime aboriginal band says new rules on the native fishery will be broken as early as today.

Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal announced yesterday he will allow a limited native fishery for two aboriginal bands and allow a commercial fishery to open as scheduled Thursday.

The minister said 33 of 35 native bands have agreed to honour a 30-day voluntary moratorium on lobster fishing while new conservation regulations are negotiated.

'If I have to go to jail (for ) my rights, I will'

The two hold-outs - Burnt Church and Indian Brook, N.S., - will be allowed to fish until the end of the month, but under strict limits, including the size of catches, number of traps and type of fishing gear.

Native fishermen on this northern New Brunswick reserve said Ottawa's decision to allow them to keep 600 lobster traps in Miramichi Bay falls far short.

''It's pretty hard to swallow,'' said Calvin Metallic Barnaby, a band councillor and lobster fisherman.

He said 600 traps are not enough to provide for the needs of the more than
1, 200 band members. There are now an estimated 900 traps in the water. The limit for Indian Brook is 800 traps.

Barnaby predicted native fishermen in Burnt Church will ignore the government's limit. ''If I have to go to jail to protect my rights, I will,'' he said at a barricade natives have set up at the Burnt Church wharf.

Alex Dedam, Burnt Church band manager, said: ''He cannot cancel our treaty rights.

''We're determined to exercise our fishing rights. His offer is not acceptable.''

A couple of smaller fishermen said 600 traps is a start.

''At least we're allowed to fish,'' said Lorin Dedam.

Non-native commercial fishermen were no happier than the majority of their aboriginal counterparts.

Dhaliwal has left ''the red flag waving,'' said Mike Belliveau of the Maritimes Fishermen's Union.

''He's reducing the number of traps, but he's continuing to authorize fishing in the closed season,'' said Belliveau. ''Does he expect that's going to improve community relations?''

Local fishermen say the lobster stock has been seriously harmed and their earnings could be sliced in half next year because of native fishing in the last couple of weeks.

Aboriginals began catching lobster after a Sept. 17 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledging a treaty right to fish for profit.

The ruling sparked a series of violent clashes between natives and non- natives and Belliveau said nothing has been done to cool the anger behind some of the confrontations.

''They're furious,'' Belliveau said of the Burnt Church fishermen. He is organizing a meeting today to talk about Dhaliwal's announcement.

In Ottawa, the minister called his solution ''the most prudent course of action. Sometimes some compromises have to be made.''

Meanwhile, Dhaliwal said he will allow the lobster fishery in the upper part of the Bay of Fundy to open as scheduled this week.

Commercial fishermen in New Brunswick cheered that decision.

''Certainly this is great news for us,'' Jim Wood, of the Alma Fishermen's Association, told Canadian Press.

Gary Hurley, of the Fundy East Fishermen's Association, credited Chief Brian Toney of the nearby Annapolis band for persuading the minister to allow non- natives to fish.

''We sure owe thanks to the First Nations in this area for their support,'' said Hurley, noting relations between the two sides have been friendly and open-minded.

''They didn't need to come forward and support us but they did.''

Dhaliwal said negotiations for a long-term solution to the fishing problem will begin soon. He also suggested trap limits for natives could rise.

''The 600 is not in any way reflective of what the long-term solution is going to be,'' he said in an interview.

About 50 frustrated, placard-carrying native women and their children marched up and down the Burnt Church wharf yesterday, calling for a solution that respects their rights.

''We want to make a better future for our children,'' said Millie Augustine, huddled under a blanket on the wharf as a cluster of girls pounded on a small drum and chanted the words of a traditional Micmac song about Mother Earth.

''It's our right to be able to make a half-decent living for our families. We're looking out for the future of our children. That's what this is all about,'' said Augustine.

After church services yesterday, a local United Church minister and a small group of non-native women and children from his congregation visited the beach where native warriors have set up camp in a teepee and tarp-covered shack.

Rev. Dan Kirkegaard said he'd gone there to pray for peace in the divided community.

''Healing. Renewing,'' he said.

With files from Canadian Press { au: