Dhaliwal corrupted lobster dispute: MP 

JOHN CUMMINS
National Post
Monday, October 23, 2000

   When William Hipwell (Ottawa’s Lobster War Against the Mi’kmaq, Sept. 30) chastises the Minister of Fisheries for defying Supreme Court rulings on native fisheries or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on its catch estimates for Burnt Church, the Carleton University student would do well to remember the line from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism — ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing.’ 

Mr. Hipwell is correct when he characterizes Mr. Dhaliwal as ‘arrogantly’ defying the rulings of the court, but not in the way he might imagine. 

The Sparrow and Marshall rulings did not give Burnt Church natives an automatic right to a lobster food fishery or a treaty right to a commercial lobster fishery. What the rulings did was establish criteria to assess native claims of an aboriginal right to a food fishery or a treaty right to a commercial lobster fishery such that the claims might be satisfactorily substantiated. 

Mr. Dhaliwal has had a corrupting influence on his department’s response to the Supreme Court. Instead of challenging natives to substantiate claims for either a food or commercial fishery, as the court had directed, he granted access to such fisheries when the government had evidence to show such claims were without foundation. The Department of Justice provided that evidence under oath in Federal Court in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. 

Mr. Hipwell rightly challenges the government’s catch estimates for Burnt Church, but for the wrong reasons. He claims DFO based its claim on 1,700 traps in the water rather than the 650 natives had claimed. If only they had done so. 

Rather surprisingly, DFO Science Branch told a parliamentary committee recently that its catch estimate was based on 650 traps in the water, rather than the 2,000 the Minister claimed or the more than 4,000 that fishery officers pulled from the water. Officials told the committee they no longer track native catches in Malpeque Bay, St. Mary’s Bay, or indeed Miramichi Bay. They rely on the number of traps that natives have been authorized to put in the water or, in the case of Miramichi Bay, the number of traps natives publicly claim to have in the water even when the department knows them to be grossly inaccurate. 

Mr. Hipwell says the native fishery this summer was minimal compared with the overall commercial fishery in the whole region during the regular season. He seems unaware that natives participated in the commercial fishery, or that the native fishery this summer took place during a closed time and was directed at lobster during their most vulnerable period, a time when they move into shallow bays to moult and spawn. Catching lobster then is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, but is a foolish and dangerous thing to do. 

DFO now estimates that Burnt Church natives have caught over 300,000 pounds of lobster during this closed time. The actual catch from Miramichi Bay would be more than a million pounds of lobster, a reasonable estimate given the number of traps in the water. 

Willful blindness with regard to catch estimates moves DFO Science and fisheries managers into dangerous waters, waters that after the collapse of the northern cod, I had hoped they would avoid. Fudging catch data to provide political cover for the Minister is a recipe for disaster. 

Mr. Dhaliwal has had a profoundly corrupting influence on the DFO Science Branch. Catch data for the major lobster fishing areas indicate stocks are in significant decline, and have been since the native food fishery was instituted in the early Nineties. 

Commercial catches are almost sure to plummet in the coming year, even while DFO Science Branch proceeds to advise fishery mangers based on grossly inaccurate catch numbers. Politicizing DFO Science and the ensuing collapse of stocks may well be the devastating and sad legacy of a minister who knows little of the fishery and who has little respect for court rulings or conservation. 

If Mr. Hipwell had challenged the minister’s corrupting of his department’s ability to conserve and protect lobster stocks, he would have been correct. 

John Cummins, MP, Delta-South Richmond.