Nova Scotia fishermen ask Ottawa to take back tribes’ lobster licenses

By Alison Auld
Associated Press
Monday, February 12, 2001 

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) Nova Scotia fishermen have asked Ottawa to revoke several tribal lobster licenses, a move some say would lead to more hostility on Atlantic Canada’s fractious fishing grounds. 

A group of fishermen from the province’s southwestern shore, the site of violent clashes over the tribal fishery last year, demanded the federal government rescind seven lobster licenses used by two tribes. 

The commercial fishermen said they took the provocative step because Ottawa violated an agreement not to hand out certain tribal fishing licenses and hasn’t responded to letters and calls to discuss the issue. 

One fisherman said this was the only way they felt they could get the federal government’s attention. 

”What we’re really asking for is for them to sit down with us and identify what’s going to be given out to natives,” said Ashton Spinney, a fisherman from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, a coastal community lined with trawlers and fishing wharfs. 

”We want it put in writing.” 

Fishermen from the area that relies heavily on the seasonal lobster fishery are upset that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans gave the Indian Brook and Acadia tribes licenses for a small, short-term ceremonial fishery. 

Under that fishery, tribal members are allowed to go out during and after the regular lobster season and catch a limited amount of lobster that cannot be sold. 

Some commercial fishermen have accused the tribes of catching more than they’re allowed and illegally selling hundreds of thousands of pounds of lobster to processors. 

Spinney said the licenses will make it easier for the alleged illegal fishery to take place. He wants Ottawa to revoke the commercial licenses until the tribes agree not to fish the ceremonial food fishery outside of the regular season. 

Tribal leaders, who watched last summer as tribal fishermen clashed with DFO officials, quickly dismissed the allegations and said band chiefs wouldn’t want to surrender any licenses. 

”They’re rubbing salt into the wounds,” Lawrence Paul, head of the native Atlantic Policy Congress, said from Truro, Nova Scotia. 

”They seem to be wanting to cause the confrontation. This is going to strain relations.” 

Tensions between the tribes and commercial fishermen have been riding high since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in September 1999 that the tribes have treaty rights to make a moderate living from hunting, fishing and gathering. 

Members from some Nova Scotia tribes say those treaty rights allow them to fish when and where they want without government tags. But commercial fishermen insist the tribes must fish within the same seasons and under imposed quotas. 

Fisheries officials said Monday they wouldn’t revoke the licenses that resulted from the court decision. 

”This is not acceptable,” Andre-Marc Lanteigne, a DFO spokesman, said Monday in Halifax. ”What they’re asking us to do is disregard an aboriginal right that has been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.” 

In New Brunswick, members of the Burnt Church reservation were calling for a meeting with the ministers of Fisheries and Indian Affairs, and mediator Bob Rae to help defuse tensions over the fishery. 

The chief of Burnt Church, where tribe members faced violent confrontations with DFO boats last summer, said he wants to try to avoid more clashes. But a DFO spokeswoman said the chief declined an offer from the minister over the weekend to meet the tribe’s leader. 

”He’d offered to meet this weekend, but the chief wasn’t able to do that,” Heather Bala said from Ottawa. 

The federal government outlined plans last Friday to launch negotiations on Atlantic tribal fisheries and other treaty issues, including economic development. 

Sources have said up to $500 million has been approved for the tribal fishery and improvements on reservations, but Ottawa hasn’t confirmed that figure. 

Negotiators are expected to begin talks soon. 

Ottawa started last year to improve tribal access to the fishery through interim agreements that expire in March. The deals, which provided training, equipment and licenses to tribes, cost the government $160 million. 

The Burnt Church and Indian Brook tribes refused to sign agreements last year, claiming they undermined inherent tribal treaty rights to the fishery. 

James MacKenzie, DFO’s chief negotiator, told commercial fishermen in Moncton, New Brunswick, that the tension between tribe members and non-Indians is a ”neighborhood problem.” 

In a speech during a Maritime Fishermen’s Union meeting Monday, MacKenzie said increased dialogue between the two sides is needed to create a regulated fishery. 

”I don’t have any magic answers,” he said. ”All we want is to have a peaceful and orderly fishery. We will find solutions, we will get there.” 

Union president Michael Belliveau dismissed MacKenzie’s comments. 

”How could anybody say this is a neighborhood problem?” he said. ”It’s not a neighborhood problem. It’s a national problem and we’re not hearing from our national leaders.”