Rae sets deadline to end fish dispute
Hope for peaceful settlement fades as negotiations stall

Toronto Star Atlantic Canada Bureau
Tuesday, September 19, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. (CP) - It's crunch time in the native lobster fishing dispute.

Bob Rae, the mediator in the standoff between the federal government and the Burnt Church First Nation, has set a deadline of this afternoon to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Rae said he'll end his efforts and return to Toronto if the dispute isn't settled by the deadline.

If that happens, federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal warned yesterday, then more native traps will be confiscated.

``At the end of the day, I'll have to look at all my options available but our priority is trying to resolve this in a peaceful way,'' he said in Ottawa.

``But I think we're coming to the end of the line. Every effort has been made, and I hope Bob Rae comes with some solution, but at the end of the day I have to make sure I enforce and I protect the resource for all Canadians. And I'll do that.''

Few were optimistic yesterday of a sudden breakthrough in the simmering dispute over who controls the native fishery: the federal fisheries department or the Mi'kmaq people on the Burnt Church reserve.

André-Marc Lanteigne, spokesperson for the fisheries department, said negotiations with the reserve were ``very slow and very difficult.''

The department is considering a suggestion from Rae for a system of joint patrols of the lobster fishery to assess the exact number of native traps in Miramichi Bay.

Lanteigne said such a system would be fraught with difficulty since the department believes many native traps aren't marked with buoys and would be difficult to locate.

There have been several seizures by fisheries officers since the latest conflict at Burnt Church began in mid-August, and most have led to violent clashes on the water as natives try to protect their equipment.

The fisheries department considers the native lobster fall fishery illegal. The only commercial fishery in Miramichi Bay is in the spring.