Defiant natives resume lobster fishing
Federal officials adopt wait-and-see attitude off shore of N.B. reserve

Toronto Star Atlantic Canada Bureau
Saturday, August 12, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Native fishermen pulled lobster out of the still, grey waters of Miramichi Bay yesterday, as federal fisheries officers watched but did not act to stop what they have dubbed an illegal fishery.

A handful of open skiffs with outboard motors moved out onto the bay shortly after dawn, dropping wire traps in a thin band of water near the shore of this reserve. Some fishermen hauled in traps they had set out the night before.

``It feels good,'' Douglas Dedam said as he unloaded a dozen red lobster from a bucket in his battered green boat.

``This isn't a protest fishery,'' said Dedam, a father of two who hasn't found work in almost a year.

``This is about claiming our treaty rights and providing for our children.''

A crowd gathered at a small steel bridge to welcome Dedam and others back to the sandy bank of the reserve with their catch. Brandishing a big red lobster in each hand, Dedam posed for pictures for what people here consider a historic moment in their struggle for native rights.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans had vowed to shut down the illegal fishery when it began, but officials said yesterday they will wait to see how vigorously the community decides to fish.

``So far, we see a very, very limited small-scale fishery,'' said federal spokesperson André Marc Lanteigne.

``At most, there are 40 to 60 traps in the water today. There is no urgency to act here.''

Lanteigne pointed out that the band is allowed 40 lobster traps under an Ottawa plan spurned by band members this week.

The people of this reserve recently voted to reject all federal regulation over fishing, vowing to follow only their own rules on the sea. On Thursday, organizers handed out tags for more than 3,000 lobster traps under a band management plan that allots four tags for every man, woman and child in Burnt Church.

However, many of those who picked up tags weren't ready to fish yesterday morning. The issue has also divided this reserve, where some favoured accepting Ottawa's rules, along with the $2.5 million in cash and five new boats Ottawa has offered as part of a deal.

Burnt Church has been at the centre of a fight over native fishing rights since last fall, when commercial fishermen destroyed 4,000 native traps in a raid on the bay.