Talks on, as Canadian fish war simmers

United Press International
October 18, 1999


HALIFAX, Nova Scotia. Federal officials met with Indian chiefs from the Atlantic provinces Monday to defuse a simmering fish war that erupted after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld historic treaty rights of Maritime Indians to hunt and fish year-round. Indian Affairs Minister Bob Nault accompanied federal special negotiator James MacKenzie to the talks in Ottawa. MacKenzie was appointed last week to talk to Maritime Indian chiefs and representatives of commercial fishermen, and find a solution to the dispute. The talks began amid heightened tension after hundreds of commercial fishermen in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, went out on a flotilla of about 150 boats on the weekend to destroy a large number of lobster traps they found in the water. The group said they wanted to send a message to Ottawa that commercial fishermen would not tolerate off-season lobster fishing. Chief Deborah Robinson, of the Acadia band of Micmac Indians, said fishermen from her band had not set traps off Yarmouth, and any traps found there were probably set illegally. The incident passed without the violence and arson seen in the Burnt Church reserve in New Brunswick earlier this month, when commercial fishermen destroyed more than 2,000 traps set by Micmacs. However, Chief Lawrence Paul, co-chair of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs, said the attitude of the Yarmouth commercial fishermen disgusted him, as Indians did have the right to hunt and fish year-round. ''The law is on our side,'' Paul said. With the negotiations just starting between the Indian chiefs and federal officials, he said the weekend action of the commercial fishermen would harden the stand of the chiefs. The dispute erupted after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Sept. 17 that a 1760 treaty between the British Crown and Maritime Indian chiefs was still valid. The treaty gives Micmac, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy Indians the right to hunt, fish and gather other resources year-round to make a ''modest living.'' The commercial fishermen say they want Indian fishermen to follow the same conservation rules as they do, and not fish during off seasons. Micmac lawyer Adwin Bernard says the treaty is not just about lobster fishing, but also includes hunting, logging and mining, and the chiefs are now talking to experts before pressing ahead in those areas as well.