Controls debated as lobster season nears Commercial fishermen seek major changes to the native food fishery 

The Canadian Press
Friday, April 6, 2001

Fredericton – The prospect of a peaceful lobster season in the Maritimes is looking increasingly unlikely as the war of words intensifies between natives, non-natives and the federal government over control of the fishery. 

The group representing commercial, non-native fishermen added its voice to the chorus of discontent on Thursday, calling on Ottawa to make major changes to the native food fishery. 

The Maritime Fishermen’s Union, which represents inshore fishermen in the region, said the food fishery is a commercial operation in disguise and it threatens the Maritime fishing industry and lobster stocks. 

“The food fishery is the source of bad relations between natives and non-natives,” said Mike Belliveau, spokesman for the fishermen’s union.

“It’s supposed to be limited for food, social and ceremonial purposes. But it has never been a credible food fishery.” 

Belliveau said commercial fishermen on New Brunswick’s east coast want the aboriginal food fishery to become part of the regular spring lobster fishery. He said the area cannot support two commercial fisheries, one in the spring and another in the fall. 

Belliveau said fishermen are frustrated and angry as they head into another season with no certainty about what will happen, especially in the waters of Miramichi Bay near the Burnt Church reserve, the flashpoint in the dispute over native fishing rights. 

He warned that if the catches this spring are down, non-native fishermen will blame the Mi’kmaqs of Burnt Church who defied federal fisheries officers last year and set traps for lobsters from late summer until early October. 

Lobster season opens May 1.

But Chief Robert Levi of the Big Cove First Nation, near Burnt Church in eastern New Brunswick, dismissed the union’s request to change the native food fishery. 

“When we go out there and provide food for our community members, they can’t seem to understand or accept that these rights are there,” Levi said.

In Ottawa on Thursday, Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal said a balance must be struck.