Faceoff at sea in lobster feud
Non-natives sail into area full of Mi`kmaq traps
The Toronto Star
Monday, September 04, 2000
BURNT CHURCH, N.B. (CP) - A volatile situation was defused on the Miramichi Bay yesterday after a flotilla of non-native boats that approached native lobster traps returned to their wharves.
But tensions were high throughout the afternoon, as New Brunswick fishermen from Baie Ste-Anne and Neguac moved into the disputed Mi'kmaq fishing area near Burnt Church reserve.
For about 15 minutes an RCMP catamaran was all that stood between angry Mi'kmaq fishermen and non-native fishermen.
But then boats from both sides started returning to their berths, to the relief of almost 100 people watching anxiously from the shore.
``Our latest report is that this problem has been solved peacefully for the time being,'' RCMP Inspector Kevin Vickers said yesterday.
Vickers said the non-natives approached the native lobster traps because they wanted to conduct a peaceful protest.
``It is our understanding this was a sign of protest with the native fishery,'' he said.
``Obviously emotions are very high with the ecological effect (of the native traps) on the lobster fishery.''
Migam Agan, a Burnt Church band member, said the situation ``created an awful lot of alarm among our community members.''
She said six native fisheries patrol boats went to face the non-native fishermen.
``There were 20 of our officers . . and two fishing boats with our warriors out there.''
Relationships between native and non-native communities in the area have soured since last year, when a flotilla of non-native boats moved into the native fishing grounds and destroyed thousands of native lobster traps in Miramichi Bay.
There were also several acts of vandalism, a non-native cottage was burned near the reserve and a native ceremonial building was set alight.
The natives had placed the traps after the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Donald Marshall case, which allowed the Mi'kmaq to fish and earn a ``moderate livelihood'' from their catch. A clarification last Nov. 17 said the federal government still had the right to regulate the fishery.
Ken Clark, a commercial fisherman in the Miramichi, said commercial fishermen lost patience last week with the way Ottawa was handling the native fishing dispute.
Despite a large seizure of traps Tuesday by the federal fisheries department, native traps were rapidly being replaced in the bay, he said.
``We can see the fishery is threatened by an unregulated native fishery. The feeling of frustration will probably lead to an escalation of very serious proportions.
``You have to understand this is one of the largest employers in the province. If it's destroyed it would be akin to taking the oil fields out of Alberta and automobile manufacturing out of Ontario,'' Clark said.
There must be one set of rules for the lobster fishery, and the federal government must regulate it, he said. ``That's the only way we can have harmony.''