Dhaliwal puts new limits on native lobster fishery: But two native bands in the conflict vow to ignore the fisheries minister's edict.

The Vancouver Sun
Monday, October 11, 1999

OTTAWA. Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal has imposed strict limits on two native bands that have refused to join a voluntary moratorium on lobster fishing.

Hoping to end weeks of ugly confrontations on the wharfs of Atlantic Canada between native and white fishermen, Dhaliwal announced Sunday that a voluntary moratorium agreed to by 33 native bands will be enforced by the department of fisheries and oceans.

Native fishermen from the two reserves that have rejected the moratorium, in Burnt Church and Indian Brook, will face tough federal controls.

Natives from those two reserves will be allowed to continue fishing until the end of the month with a total of 1,400 tagged lobster traps.

Atlantic Canada's 6,000 licensed lobster fishermen use about 375 traps each, meaning the two native bands have been handed the equivalent of four lobster licences.

The measures, Dhaliwal told reporters, ''achieve my objectives for conservation and the need for a regulated fishery and represent the most prudent course of action in the current circumstances.''

Dhaliwal is convinced his long-awaited proposal will end the strife that has gripped Atlantic fishing communities since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that natives there have the right to fish without licences.

''I am fully confident that what I am putting out there will be supported by most of the people involved,'' he said in an interview.

However, native fishermen in Burnt Church reacted with anger to the controls, raising the spectre of new confrontation with federal enforcement officials.

Fisherman Alfred Sanipass said the 600 lobster traps offered to the 1,200 people who live on Burnt Church reserve could only support two or three families. He vowed to ignore the limits when he goes on to the water today and he expected others to do the same.

''We have the right to fish according to the Supreme Court and no one can stop us,'' said Sanipass, 49.

A spokesman for the Burnt Church band council called the federal proposal ''an insult.'' Fishermen from the reserve are now working 775 lobster pots and more have been ordered.

''We're going to continue fishing because we have the right to do so,'' said Alex Dedam.

Dhaliwal's announcement follows three weeks of discord and violence in Maritime communities between native fishermen and commercial lobster fishermen who have paid up to $250,000 for their licences.

The Burnt Church reserve in northeast New Brunswick has been at the centre of the dispute.

Commercial fishermen there have smashed native lobster pots and pulled thousands more from the water; three fish plants, suspected of buying native caught lobster, have been vandalized.

Licensed fishermen have argued that an unregulated native fishery threatens the health of local lobster stocks.

But native fishermen contend that they've been unfairly kept out of the fishery for generations. They view the court-sanctioned right to fish as their best chance to escape the poverty of reserves like Burnt Church where nine of 10 people are unemployed.