Fishermen: Native fishery threatens industry

The Canadian Press
Friday, April 5, 2001

FREDERICTON (CP) — Commercial fishermen are calling for major changes to the native food fishery, which they believe is undermining the Maritime fishing industry. 

Mike Belliveau of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, which represents commercial inshore fishermen in the region, said Thursday the native food fishery has evolved into a significant commercial fishery that infuriates non-native fishermen and threatens lobster stocks. 

Belliveau said the area most affected is the eastern shore of New Brunswick, including Miramichi Bay, where Mi’kmaq fishermen trap thousands of pounds of lobster each fall, outside the commercial spring season. 

“It is not possible to have two lobster seasons in the Miramichi without undermining the entire structure of the inshore fishery,” Belliveau said in a news release. 

“It is clear there can be only one commercial season for lobster.” 

In the fall, when native fishermen take to their boats and start hauling in traps, Miramichi Bay has been rocked with violence as federal fisheries officers try to contain the food fishery and natives insist they have a treaty right to fish commercially. 

Belliveau said non-native fishermen were furious last fall when federal officials were unable to stop unauthorized native fishing, even though the Mi’kmaq fishermen took well beyond the small allotment for food and ceremonial purposes. 

“Even when there was a possibility of breakdown in public order last fall, the government of Canada was unwilling to stop the fishing of lobster for food even though five to 10 times the allocation had been caught,” Belliveau said. 

Belliveau said the fishermen’s union wants Ottawa to make the food fishery part of the legitimate commercial season, instead of allowing it to flourish as a second commercial season for natives. 

“Fishermen clearly want to see the food fishery (take place) within the season,” he said. 

Belliveau said fishermen in the Maritimes are extremely concerned as another fishing season approaches with no resolution to the standoff over native fishing rights. 

Not one of the 35 native bands in the Maritimes has signed a new fishing agreement with Ottawa. The previous, one-year deals expired on March 31 and Mi’kmaq and Maliseet bands are worried that signing new deals could compromise their treaty rights. 

The lobster season opens May 1. Both sides say they are hoping to prevent the violence that erupted on fishing grounds in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia last year. 

Figures released Tuesday show that Ottawa spent $13 million last year on enforcement measures in Burnt Church, N.B., and St. Marys Bay, N.S.