Ombudsman may help solve Atlantic fishing disputes

Ombudsman may help solve Atlantic fishing disputes 

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Friday, May 4, 2001

CAP LUMIERE, NEW BRUNSWICK. Three small towns in northern New Brunswick are clinging to hope offered by the federal fisheries minister. Herb Dhaliwal says he’s open to funding an ombudsman who would help those towns deal with issues surrounding the native fishery. 

Nothing has been finalized yet. But people in the towns say just the idea of having someone to hear their concerns is good news. 

At the wharf in Cap Lumiere, fishermen are making repairs, and chatting as they get ready to go to work. Scallop season opens on Monday. 

But it’s lobster Henri Leblanc is thinking about as he looks at his boat rocking on the waves. He says he’s having second thoughts about continuing as a fisherman. 

His concerns come because of the Marshall decision; the Supreme Court ruling that acknowledged the Mi’kmaq have a treaty right to fish commercially. 

In the last two years Leblanc has seen a lot of big new boats bought by the federal government steam out to sea from the Big Cove and Indian Island reserves. 

And he’s seen his neighbours in Cap Lumiere, neighbouring St. Louis de Kent, and Richibucto sell their lobster licences to the government to turn over to the Mi’kmaq. 

There are more new Mi’kmaq boats concentrated along this northern New Brunswick coast than anywhere else in the Atantic region. 

Sandy Siegel of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union says those towns have felt the loss of those licences. “Those licences are going out of the traditional fishing communities that have been fishing here for 150 years, and going to a new community,” he said. 

And with them, goes a lot of cash and jobs. “Some traditional fishermen’s helpers have been doing it all their lives. It’s all they know how to do. Some of them are 50, or 55 years old. What’s going to happen to them,” asked Leblanc. 

Siegel says that’s what the federal government has forgotten. In its zeal to sign fishing agreements with native bands and interpret treaty rights, the old non-native fishing towns have been ignored. 

Siegel says Ottawa has not considered the economic and psychological storm that’s been hovering over the three towns since the Marshall ruling. 

He says fisheries minister Herb Dhaliwal’s agreement in principle to appoint an ombudsman is a small step forward. 

In the next few months, Siegel and the fishermen’s union will try to hire someone to come and work out of these three towns. Someone who can get Ottawa to listen to the fears of these fishing communities who feel they’ve been left behind in a Supreme Court-ordered transition.

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