War of words escalates over fishery LOBSTER: Non-natives want aboriginal fishery part of regular spring season

Telegraph Journal
Friday, April 6, 2001

The prospect of a peaceful lobster season in the Maritimes is looking increasingly unlikely as the war of words intensifies among natives, non-natives and the federal government over control of the fishery. 

The group representing commercial, non-native fishermen added its voice to the chorus of discontent on Thursday, calling on Ottawa to make major changes to the native food fishery. 

The Maritime Fishermen’s Union, which represents inshore fishermen in the region, said the food fishery is a commercial operation in disguise and it threatens the Maritime fishing industry and lobster stocks. 

“The food fishery is the source of bad relations between natives and non-natives,” said Mike Belliveau, spokesman for the fishermen’s union. 

“It’s supposed to be limited for food, social and ceremonial purposes. But it has never been a credible food fishery.” 

Mr. Belliveau said commercial fishermen on New Brunswick’s east coast want the aboriginal food fishery to become part of the regular spring lobster fishery. He said the area cannot support two commercial fisheries, one in the spring and another in the fall. 

Mr. Belliveau said fishermen are frustrated and angry as they head into another season with no certainty about what will happen, especially in the waters of Miramichi Bay near the Burnt Church reserve, the flashpoint in the dispute over native fishing rights. 

He warned that if the catches this spring are down, non-native fishermen will blame the Mi’kmaqs of Burnt Church who defied federal fisheries officers last year and set traps for lobsters from late summer until early October.

“One of the things we’re worried about is that if catches are down this spring in the Miramichi, it’ll put people in a pretty foul mood because, in their minds, it will be directly related to last fall’s events,” Mr. Belliveau said. 

The lobster season opens May 1. 

But Chief Robert Levi of the Big Cove First Nation, near Burnt Church, dismissed the union’s request to change the native food fishery. 

“When we go out there and provide food for our community members, they can’t seem to understand or accept that these rights are there,” Mr. Levi said. 

“They say the Big Cove fishermen are selling lobster under the table. They don’t even consider the poaching that takes place among non-natives. Everything and anything that happens, it’s blame the . . .Indians. I’m getting fed up with this.” 

There has been a fall food fishery in Miramichi Bay since 1993 when the Supreme Court of Canada cleared the way for such activities in its Sparrow decision. 

Mi’kmaq and Maliseet fishermen stepped up their fall activities following the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Marshall case which said natives have a treaty right to a moderate livelihood from fishing.

Every fall since then has seen dangerous confrontations on Miramichi Bay and St. Mary’s Bay in Nova Scotia between native fishermen, federal fisheries officers and, occasionally, non-native fishermen. 

Mr. Belliveau said Maritime fishermen don’t think much of Canada’s highest court. 

“Our fishing communities are frustrated beyond belief by the remote judges who have no problem turning our lives upside down,” he said. 

Meanwhile, natives leaders on Thursday attacked the federal government. 

The Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs said it’s disappointed that federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal has refused to negotiate a single fisheries agreement on behalf of the region’s 35 reserves, and instead will hammer out deals on a band-by-band basis. The Atlantic chiefs said the federal government is pursuing a divide-and-conquer strategy.