Federal boats hook native lobster traps
Miramichi Bay raid ends peacefully as cooler heads prevail

Toronto Star Atlantic Canada Bureau
Sunday, September 24, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Native fishermen watched quietly from shore yesterday as federal patrol boats plucked hundreds of their lobster traps from Miramichi Bay.

``You can replace a lobster trap but you can't replace a life,'' said Clifford Larry, a native fisherman and member of the Warrior Society as he watched patrol boats criss-cross the water about 2 kilometres off the shore of his reserve.


`You can replace a lobster trap but you can't replace a life. This is an important fight and we will keep fighting, but you don't have to die to do that.'
- Clifford Larry Native fisherman

``This is an important fight and we will keep fighting, but you don't have to die to do that.''

The battle over native fishing rights entered a new phase here yesterday, when Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal made good on threats to sweep the bay of native traps.

Twelve boats worked through the night pulling traps from the black waters of the bay. By noon, they had scooped up 813 traps, according to Jim Jones, regional director of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Previous raids have turned into violent confrontations in which boats were rammed and sunk and men were thrown in the water.

But Chief Wilbur Dedam recently asked his people to stop protecting their lobster traps with their lives, saying it was just too dangerous.

``The message we are putting across is that we can protect that treaty right, but we don't have to endanger our lives for a trap,'' said Karen Somerville, band spokesperson.

``But the fact that we aren't allowed to go out and earn a living is still hard on people here.''

Somerville estimated there are only ``a handful'' of native traps left in the bay, but federal officials said last night there are still 1,000 traps they plan to remove over the next few days.

Commercial fishermen cautiously applauded the raid last night. They have pushed hard for Ottawa to end all fishing out of season.

``They came in too late,'' said Philipe Manuel, of nearby Baie St. Anne.

``The damage is already done.''

Several fishermen threatened to remove the native traps themselves if Ottawa didn't. A raid by non-native fishermen last year sparked three nights of violence here that saw cars and structures burned, and a man beaten with a baseball bat.

``(The bay) must be cleaned this weekend,'' said Reginald Comeau, president of the Maritime Fishermen's Union. ``That is what fishermen are expecting, that it will be cleaned this weekend.''

Native groups yesterday warned commercial fishermen not to get in the middle of the fight, saying that could spark cross-country protests.

Chief John Dantouze, of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak First Nation, warned that native people will blockade every highway in Manitoba if the commercial fishermen destroy native traps.

Yesterday's raid came after a day and night of violence that saw guns used for the first time in this conflict.

Friday morning, someone shot at a commercial fisherman from a native boat. Early yesterday morning, three commercial fishermen were arrested and their boat seized after someone fired a gun near the shore of the reserve.

Fisheries officials said yesterday that they decided for safety reasons not to remove the lobster traps closest to the reserve.

A handful of people here are still promising to fight back against fisheries officers if they come too close to shore. James Ward said he did not battle fishery officers yesterday because he thought they were patrolling an area where there were no native traps.

One group of warriors, led by Frank Thomas, has agreed not to go out on the water during the next raid. Ward's group, however, still plans to go.