Stock protection must be priority

The Telegraph Journal
Friday, April 20, 2001

Some native fishermen are misleading themselves if they believe their own, unilateral fisheries management plans will sustain their financial well-being, annual catches and stock replenishment. Only a co-ordinated conservation strategy will accomplish those goals. 

Several band councils in Atlantic Canada intend to follow Burnt Church ‘s lead and implement their own fisheries management plans this year. Burnt Church and Indian Brook were the only two band councils last year not to sign interim fishing agreements with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 

The bands argued signing the pacts would have limited their treaty rights affirmed in the Supreme Court’s 1999 Marshall decision. That ruling gave Mi’kmaq and Maliseet bands the right to earn moderate livings from year-round fishing, hunting and gathering. The region’s native fishery, created last year, generated tens of millions of dollars. 

Reason must prevail. The region’s historical dependence on the fishery must not be ignored. There cannot be a sustainable fishery if several groups implement their own conservation strategies, independent of the others. 

One band council chief, for example, objects to using tags on his band’s lobster traps. However, the tags, or some other form of identification, must be used to ensure the integrity of the fishery is not compromised by poachers. 

The problem is not new to DFO. Fisheries officials say the conservation ethic is fragile, and that many fishermen have been dragged into stock-management initiatives that they opposed. 

Fisheries officials are having a difficult time convincing fishermen some species’ populations are about to crash, because catches have been high in recent years. In fact, 80 to 90 per cent of adult lobsters are being killed before they can reproduce. 

Multiple users benefit from the fishery, therefore everyone must work together to protect it. Aboriginal and non-native fishermen must recognize they are living and working in a multilateral community, and work alongside each other to manage the resources. 

Natives cannot manage the fishery independently. They must share both the challenges and benefits of the resource. Natives have constitutional and treaty rights to share in the fisheries, but that means they are also obligated to protect the stocks.