Dhaliwal: Lobster conservation ‘first priority’

Herb Dhaliwal, G. Campbell McDonald, and Gerald Woods
National Post
October 3, 2000

May I provide some facts relating to your editorial of Sept. 26 (Courting Disaster). Any time you need basic information, I would cordially invite you to contact officials of my department or the DFO Web site.

You state that “only now that a federal election call is imminent are illegal lobster traps being seized — a year after they were first set.” This is inaccurate.

Since the Supreme Court of Canada Marshall decision a year ago, we have carried out dozens of enforcement actions. In fact, we seized nearly 600 traps in Miramichi Bay on Oct. 22, 1999, following closure of the fishery. Since then, we have seized thousands of lobster traps from non-aboriginal as well as aboriginal people. In other fisheries, we have acted vigorously to prevent individuals from engaging in unauthorized activities.

You state that the extent of the Marshall decision is simply: “Descendants of Nova Scotia’s LaHave Indians are allowed to fish for eels.” In fact, the Supreme Court decision has a much wider application. The court’s specific decision in Marshall concerned eels, but it took the opportunity to provide general guidance on the nature and scope of the treaty right. The Supreme Court referred to providing equitable access to the commercial fishery, and that is what the government is working to do. The article of the same date by Lawrence Solomon (Lobster Trap) says I am hell- bent on creating jobs in the fishery for EI purposes. In fact, the number of fishing boats and jobs has dropped sharply in recent years. Through a voluntary licence retirement program, government has reduced the number of licences to foster a sustainable fishery. If Mr. Solomon consults the DFO Web site, he will see that registered Atlantic fishermen dropped from 61,500 in 1992 to 42,700 in 1999.

Mr. Solomon appears to think we should do away with lobster seasons and regulate by size limits only. He favours an American-style system with no closed season. But international fisheries experts generally agree that our conservation system (using size limits, seasons, trap limits, zone limits and limits on the number of fishers) is superior to the American one. In recent decades, many U.S. fisheries have begun adopting Canadian-style regulations such as licence limitation.

Mr. Solomon complains that in the Burnt Church food fishery, we have drastically reduced the number of traps. He omits to add that following the Marshall decision last year, we have authorized a larger commercial lobster fishery for Burnt Church First Nation, as well as access to the lucrative crab fishery. Finally, Mr. Solomon states: “The white fishermen’s refusal to accept the law of the land and the government’s fear that it could lose the Maritimes — and its majority government — if it alienates the white vote, explains the fishery department’s sudden concern for conservation.” Conservation does remain my first priority.

My department has been in constant communication with the Burnt Church Band about our conservation concerns, both with their recent level of fishing effort, and with their proposed management plan. The scientific evidence is clear: Even if no one but the Burnt Church First Nation were to fish lobster in the Miramichi Bay area, the level of effort they are proposing would still be too high, and would pose a conservation risk. It is for conservation reasons that the commercial fishery in Lobster Fishing Area 23 (where the band has been fishing) has been closed since the end of July, and that I closed the food fishery in the area last week.

However, I should be very clear that I have never said conservation is my only concern. To do so would be to ignore the Supreme Court’s Marshall ruling, and my responsibilities as Minister. Instead, I have been clear and explicit from the beginning in saying that, in addition to conservation, I must regulate the fishery for other important objectives such as economic and regional fairness, and recognition of the reliance of non-aboriginal groups on the fishery. I intend to live up to those responsibilities. I hope this information clarifies the situation for your readers.

The Honourable Herb Dhaliwal, PC, MP, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

Dear Mr. Solomon:

Congratulations on your hard-hitting column (Lobster Trap). It was a great and sudden gust of fresh air for many of us dispirited by the National Post’s ritual knee-jerk condemnation of all First Nations activities, good, bad or indifferent. You presented the Native position at Burnt Church in a rational light that can only win you the sincere thanks of many fair-minded non-native Canadians.

G. Campbell McDonald, Toronto.

A very interesting and informative article. I’ve never seen the facts about the cutbacks in the aboriginal lobster harvest before this day. I agree that it’s shameful. I do not share your immense respect for the Supreme Court of Canada, however. It’s my understanding that nowhere does the treaty mention fish, lobster, timber, etc., and I absolutely abhor the new reality that judges will make the treaty conform to what they, the unelected, want. Another thing: I don’t think the Liberals were anointed by voters in Atlantic Canada the last time they stood for election, but the signs are that the problem will be taken care of next time.

Gerald Woods, Pender Island, B.C.

Read ‘Lobster Trap’ by Lawrence Solomon

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