Rae strikes tentative deal in Miramichi Bay dispute
Ex-Ontario premier to present proposal to fishery officials
Toronto Star Atlantic Canada Bureau
Friday, September 15, 2000
BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Former Ontario premier Bob Rae has struck a tentative deal for peace on the troubled waters of Miramichi Bay.
The Burnt Church First Nation last night agreed to a proposal that Rae will present today to federal fishery officials.
The deal would see native fishermen team up with federal fishery officers to count the number of native lobster traps in Miramichi Bay. The federal government would agree to stop seizing traps during the inventory, and native patrols would agree to give fishery officials safe passage in local waters.
The joint inventory would then be the starting point for negotiations on a permanent solution.
Burnt Church officials also told Rae yesterday they are willing to limit fishing to one side of the bay, as long as the federal government does not interfere in that area.
``Bob Rae has made a recommendation today and we are willing to abide by that recommendation if the Department of Fisheries and Oceans agrees to it also,'' said Karen Somerville, spokesperson for the band.
``The meeting went really, really well.''
The fight over native fishing rights has flared into violence repeatedly this summer as people in Burnt Church claim what they say is a treaty right to fish lobster outside the regular commercial season.
Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal has called the native fishery illegal and ordered his officials to seize native boats and traps.
More than a dozen people have been arrested here - including Chief Wilbur Dedam - and more than 1,000 traps have been seized. There have also been more than a dozen arrests in Nova Scotia. Native patrol boats have twice been swamped during on-the-water confrontations in New Brunswick, and both native fishery officers and federal fishery officers have been injured.
Rae, who is acting as a mediator, waded into the fractious dispute yesterday, holding marathon meetings with non-native fishermen, federal officials and members of the Burnt Church reserve.
He spent an hour on a speedboat with Dedam touring the disputed lobster grounds and later met for four hours with the band council.
``We are trying to find the space for a successful mediation,'' Rae told reporters as he climbed back on the Burnt Church wharf yesterday afternoon.
He refused to confirm last night that there was a tentative deal, saying only that ``it was a good meeting'' and that talks would continue today.
``My goal is to try to create some space for a process of discussion about the longer term,'' Rae said.
``It's very important that people are able to make a living, a moderate livelihood, and at the same time to recognize the legitimate concerns of the non-native fishermen and communities that depend on the fishery.''
Mike Belliveau, head of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, warned yesterday that Rae has only ``hours'' to find a solution to the conflict.
``The situation is extremely difficult, extremely dangerous,'' he said.
However, Belliveau said his meeting with Rae was ``constructive.''
``It was a good start,'' he said.