Bands flout new lobster rules

The Toronto Star
Tuesday, October 12, 1999

HALIFAX - Native fishermen yesterday defied orders to scale back
lobster fishing, setting the stage for another confrontation in
the three-week-old war over native fishing rights.

Members of the Burnt Church band council yesterday formally refused to accept federal tags for lobster traps, and native fishermen continued to add more traps to the contested waters of New Brunswick's Miramichi Bay.

A spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans yesterday warned that his officers will begin enforcing new rules for the native fishery within days.

''The band refused the tags and permit today, so tomorrow we will try to deliver them again,'' said Terry Boucher, communications director for the department's gulf region.

''But there is no doubt that we will be enforcing (Fisheries Minister Herb) Dhaliwal's orders very soon.''

Dhaliwal has ordered the Burnt Church reserve to drastically scale back its lobster fishing in the wake of a violent confrontation over the new fishery.

Last week, more than 150 non-native boats systematically destroyed roughly 3, 000 native traps that had been legally set in Miramichi Bay following a Supreme Court ruling on native rights.

The raid sparked several days of violence and protest that saw property damaged and death threats made on both sides.

Three native people were injured.

Thirty-three of 35 bands later agreed to a short moratorium on native fishing, with Burnt Church and Indian Brook the only exceptions.

Dhaliwal yesterday announced new rules for the fledgling native fishery.

Burnt Church would be allowed 600 lobster traps - 300 less than they currently have in the water.

Indian Brook would get 800. All traps would have to carry federal tags.

Fishermen in Burnt Church angrily rejected every aspect of the plan.

''We aren't giving up,'' said Brian Francis, a native fisherman from Big Cove who hopes to put new traps in the water tomorrow.

''It's a slap in the face for all of us.''

Burnt Church resident James Ward agreed.

''The guys at the wharf said, 'Definitely not','' he said yesterday. ''They are deliberately putting traps out without tags and putting more out than before.''

However, Burnt Church fisherman Robert Sylliboy has said he planned to take his 20 traps out of the water, claiming a moral victory, according to Canadian Press.

''I figure that I only had mine out just to prove a point and now that that point is proven, I'll take my traps out and let other people that need it . . . fish,'' he said.

Dozens of people gathered yesterday at the edge of the dilapidated wharf in Burnt Church for a pot-luck dinner of lobster, turkey and stews.

Many fishermen have said the only thing keeping them on the water is pride and principle.

As the bay cools, the lobster move to deeper water and many fishermen say it is too cold to fish for too little gain.

Non-native fishermen are also upset by Dhaliwal's proposal. They claim the native fishery will wipe out next spring's lobster season.

Federal scientists, however, have said the native fishery is not a threat to conservation.

Lobster seasons are staggered along the Atlantic coast. Although lobster has been out of season in Miramichi Bay all summer, the season ended just south of there only yesterday.

Lobster season in the rich waters off Yarmouth, N.S., does not open until November, but will open in the upper Bay of Fundy on Oct. 15.

And there is a year-round lobster season for boats that go more than 80 kilometres offshore.

Federal fishery officials estimate that native fishermen have caught less than 1 per cent of the annual lobster catch since the Supreme Court decision launched a commercial native fishery on Sept. 17.