Police charge 25, as fish war subsides

United Press International
Tuesday, October 12, 1999

HALIFAX. Royal Canadian Mounted Police have filed charges against 25 people who took part in the destruction of more than 2,000 Micmac Indian lobster traps off New Brunswick nine days ago, touching off a ''fish war'' in Atlantic Canada.

Police did not name the people charged, or reveal what they were charged with, but said Tuesday that 49 charges have been laid, and more details would be released later.

The announcement came two days after federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal indicated that the fish war had been defused and that two Micmac Indian bands would be allowed to continue lobster fishing, after they vowed to defy a 30-day fishing moratorium called by 35 Maritime Indian chiefs.

The fish war erupted days after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a 1760 treaty between the British Crown and Maritime Indians was still valid, giving Micmacs and Maliseets the right to hunt and fish year-round without licenses.

Tension in the Atlantic provinces rose when Micmacs and Maliseets immediately took to the water and began laying lobster traps out-of- season.

Non-Aboriginal fishermen said the off-season fishing would deplete the lobster stocks for everyone, and on Oct. 3, a group of about 150 commercial fishermen went out with a small flotilla of boats on Miramichi Bay, destroying more than 2,000 traps.

Tempers flared, and groups of Micmacs, many of whom were on welfare and had borrowed money to buy relatively expensive traps, burned two pickup trucks left by non-Aboriginals on a wharf at Burnt Church, New Brunswick.

In the days following the incident, a RCMP officer said police would lay no charges unless they received specific complaints against specific individuals for destroying specific traps.

Tuesday's announcement that they had in fact charged 25 people appeared to reverse that decision. Some area Micmacs said the number of people charged, out of a group of 150, was small, but it was better than no charges at all.

Indian defiance continued during the weekend when Micmac men, and several women, at Burnt Church and another nearby reserve, resumed fishing on Sunday after rejecting the 30-day moratorium announced by the 35 chiefs last week.

Nevertheless, Dhaliwal said he was happy that 33 Indian bands were observing the moratorium. He said the small group of Micmacs who had decided to defy their chiefs' call for a moratorium would be allowed to set 600 traps.

Non-Aboriginal commercial fishermen, apparently mollified by the small number of Indian traps permitted, made no comment.

The commercial fishermen earlier rejected a call that they also take part in the moratorium.

Dhaliwal said licensed fisherman would be permitted to lay traps in the water as usual when the lobster season opens this week.