Season opens with little fanfare

Canadian Press
Wednesday, April 2, 2001

MIRAMICHI – The lobster season on New Brunswick’s Miramichi Bay opens this week on much calmer waters than last fall. 

Hundreds of commercial fishermen in northeastern New Brunswick started setting traps on Monday for a spring season that promises to be considerably more peaceful than last fall when boats were rammed, demonstrations were commonplace and shots were fired. 

Little has changed in the standoff between native fishermen at Burnt Church and the federal Fisheries Department, but Mi’kmaq spokesmen said Monday there shouldn’t be too many problems this spring. 

James Ward, a native rights activist and Mi’kmaq warrior at Burnt Church, predicted the aboriginal fall fishery on Miramichi Bay, not the commercial spring harvest, will be the flashpoint for tensions over access to the rich lobster fishery. 

“A few of our native fishermen will go out this spring and exercise their rights,” Ward said. “It’s for sustainment, not for commercial purposes. They have to supplement welfare one way or another.

“I’m assuming there will be small skirmishes based on that, but I don’t see real big confrontations. Those will come in August and September.” 

That has been the pattern since September, 1999 when the Supreme Court of Canada issued its landmark decision in the Donald Marshall case and changed the landscape of the Maritime fishing industry. 

The people of Burnt Church and a handful of other Maritime bands have used the Marshall decision to buttress their claim to an inherent, native right to hunt, fish and cut lumber on Crown land as a means of earning a livelihood. 

The majority of East Coast bands are prepared to negotiate agreements with Ottawa giving them increased access to the fishery, as well as boats, training and money for economic development. 

But Burnt Church, which sits on the coast of Miramichi Bay, is a holdout once again this year and so far has refused to even consider a management deal with Ottawa.