Many fishing families and communities are in turmoil over events in the Miramichi. We must find a way to make the peace. We are here for ourselves, for our future and for our children.
It is one year today that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Donald Marshall. When we first heard of the decision, many of us knew it would mean a long period of adjustment in the fishery as the Mi'kmaq peoples take their rightful place in the proud fishery of the East Coast. Last fall Mi'kmaq people went into celebration and took to the waters. This was understandable for the first few days but soon it became an open fishery with thousands of traps going into the water. The Federal Government dithered and dithered. Fishermen were left in the dark about the future of their hard won fishery. Everyone knows what happened October 3.
Our sole objective since then as the MFU has been to have the institutions of Canada work to accommodate Marshall but not on the backs of fishermen. Rectifying the years of suffering and isolation of our first nation's peoples is a national obligation that must be shouldered by all citizens. We cannot have the rest of society, sitting in their comfortable pews, telling fishermen to give up their livelihoods while they do nothing but preach and emote. This is why we are here today to send the message that you cannot ask hard working fishing families to shoulder the Country's national guilt nor can you ask the tiny Native Band at Burnt Church to carry out the struggle on behalf of all Canada's Aboriginal people. We have a National Government and we expect them to make a deep and lasting modern treaty with our first peoples.
Burnt Church Native people and ourselves, we have to walk away from this local deadlock on the water. We have to walk away from this because we are all being asked the impossible. We are being asked to live out the fantasies of people who will never live in Burnt Church or Neguac or Baie Ste Anne.
The fishermen have their union and the people of Esgenoôpetitj (Burnt Church) have their Grand Council of Chiefs and the Assembly of First Nations. This is where progress can be made towards a lasting and sustainable fishing plan that brings Mi'kmaq people as full partners in the fishery. We can already see the outlines of this on Malpeque Bay, in St. Mary's Bay, and yes, in Richibouctou.
As a fisherman, I know it was fishermen who brought the number of traps down, who pushed for size increases and protection of females. I know it was fishermen who finally got the out of season poaching under control and established a spring season as the way to renew the fishery year after year. We can show the world a lobster fishery second to none, a fishery that is supporting the whole coast. I believe in my heart that we have found by trial and error and over decades of hardship a conservation harvesting plan that works and management by season is a key principle.
The people of Esgenoôpetitj (Burnt Church) have shown how deeply their beliefs in their ancestral rights go. We cannot deny this and we have to work with this. The spirit of our fishing families also go deep, very deep and Native peoples will have to work with this too.
The MFU has had many quarrels with DFO; we have had our run-ins with the RCMP, we have had the Province bring in fishermen's legislation. We have debated Fisheries Act amendments before the House of Commons Committee, we have driven Ministers out of office. The MFU has faced the Courts and we have worked out countless fishing plans. The MFU has worked through Church organizations in West Africa. We have helped fishing communities in India challenge bad Government decisions.
Our task was never to bring down the institutions but to make the basic institutions of Canada serve the common people of all races and ancestry. The Supreme Court is the ultimate Judicial Authority and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is the ultimate Management Authority. We recognize that and we can never allow them to let down the citizens. That is the job of our type of organization.
Many of you here are frustrated 'au bout' and you are fearful of the future. You have told us many things. You are furious with your institutions. You will have a chance to tell your stories today. I just want to end with this one message: We want peace and reconciliation with our Native peoples in the Miramichi, in the Maritimes and in the Country. I would be hypocritical to call for peace if it meant more isolation and poverty for Esgenoôpetitj (Burnt Church). They have put themselves on the map. They will be fishermen and they will have a say in the fishery. I say again to you and the Mi'kmaq people let's walk away from this deadlock and make our great fishery work for everyone.
Ron Cormier, President of the Maritime Fishermen's Union
This is the text that was published in New Brunswick newspapers before the rally held in Néguac on September 17.
SEPTEMBER 14, 2000
A DAY OF CONCERN ON THE MIRAMICHI
We want answers from our leaders.
The coastal fishing families have fished lobster for generations and have a deep attachment to the sea. They are no strangers to hardship but maintain and promote a generosity of spirit. They have learned to make the lobster fishery work to improve the area's general living standards.
The Marshall decision has created the conditions for Burnt Church First Nation residents to stand proud with the rest of area fishers and to make the lobster industry work to benefit their lives.
Despite generational attachments to the sea, some of our fishers have, and will, exit the industry to make the room necessary for long-term fishing by Natives at Burnt Church. This has already happened at Big Cove, where scores of skilled young Natives are now entering the commercial fishery.
The people of the Burnt Church First Nation deeply believe in their ancestral rights. The fishing families of Miramichi Bay have worked for decades to eradicate out-of-season poaching and have forged a strong belief in management by season. Both belief systems can be respected and can exist side by side, under the laws of Canada.
The Burnt Church fishing plan, as is, can not work because it ignores the cherished beliefs of our fishing families and the guiding principles which have made this fishery so viable and stable. Many of the issues are national and we cannot ask the people of Miramichi to shoulder the burden of years of ineptitude toward our First Nations and the broader society. We need to work out a workable fishing plan that delivers practical results for young aspiring Natives while respecting all parties in a realistic and sustainable manner.
The area's peoples are trapped in a continuous spiral of grievances. We will ask our leaders how things got to this point. The Day of Concern is open to all citizens of goodwill. Bring your families and make the day a celebration of the best in the human spirit.
The federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has been invited to our rally, as well as mediator Bob Rae and area bishops. Formal invitations have also been sent to the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs.
Please make an effort to attend and show your support for a peaceful and workable solution to the current situation. Together, we must show our children and those watching from across New Brunswick, Canada and the world that we can, and will, achieve a resolution with which we all can live.
The Day of Concern will be held at the Neguac Arena on Sunday, September 17 beginning at 2:00 p.m.
SEPTEMBER 7, 2000
"Fishermen say NO to Oil/Gas Exploration on Cape Breton's Coastline"
Fishermen's representatives, from the major organizations located in the Cape Breton fishing region known as 4Vn, met on September 5th, 2000 to discuss the proposed Oil/Gas exploration activities planned for our coastline by Hunt Oil Ltd. of Texas, USA. Representatives expressed grave concern for the fish stocks and marine eco-system in the 4Vn area that will be affected by various phases of Oil/gas development activities. The 4Vn region is home to many marine species including Lobster, Snow Crab, Herring, Mackerel, as well as 4Vn Cod and 4VsW White Hake which have been under moratorium since the mid 1990's. The 4Vn region is also home to the Gulf region fish stocks that over-winter in the 4Vn from November to April each year.
This would be the first attempt at Oil & Gas exploration in inshore waters of Nova Scotia. The impacts are far more complex and affect more fisheries than in areas farther offshore.
Major studies are currently underway in the 4Vn region, namely: the 4Vn Sentinel Survey and the Fish Migration Survey to determine the abundance and movements of 4Vn and 4T Cod stocks. Osborne Burke, President of the North of Smokey Fishermen's Association, states that "these studies are extremely important to the fishery and are in jeopardy as a result of the planned Oil/gas activities. Not only would thousands of dollars of funding be lost but more importantly, the loss of valuable data from these surveys could seriously impact stock re-building efforts for the future". He continues to say that "over two thousand fishermen and crew members are directly employed in this region as well as truckers, processors, fish buyers and related service industries. Annual revenues generated in this sustainable industry amount up to 100-million dollars."
The initial stage of Oil/gas development is the seismic survey. The seismic survey consists of a vessel towing a series of air guns, of approximately 1000 metres, that emit loud blasts at planned intervals. Hunt Oil is now proposing a November 1st start date for their seismic program.
The current Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board's (CNSOPB) process of determining leases of near shore parcels is seriously flawed says Burke. The fishing industry, as a key stakeholder is not notified of the proposed Oil/gas exploration until after the fact. "It's similar to waking up one day and reading that your property has been sold".
Jeff Brownstein, President of MFU Local 6, states that the "so called consultation via the Fisheries Advisory Committee of the CNSOPB is a farce. I have been a member of the Advisory Committee for over two years speaking to this issue and find that neither the CNSOPB, nor either Federal nor Provincial Departments of Fisheries, want to hear the concerns of inshore fishermen."
The fishing associations' representatives were unanimous in their support to stop any and all proposed Oil/Gas exploration activities in the 4Vn region. They state that they are not prepared to allow a sustainable natural resource, such as the fishing industry, to be sold off to a company based in Texas, USA or any other Oil/Gas company. "The Oil/gas companies do not care about Cape Breton fishermen and women and their children who may wish to continue to generate a sustainable income many years after the Oil/gas industry have left the area", says Burke. Burke continues to say that "one only has to look at a newspaper to see the value of a barrel of oil, however what value do we place on a 'barrel' of ecosystem."
Fishermen's representatives voted unanimously to immediately cancel any further discussion with Hunt Oil consultants at this time since preliminary discussions with these same consultants seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
"The precautionary principle states that in the absence of valid information indicating minimal impacts on the marine environment and species that inhabit its ecosystem, the prudent action is 'no action at all'", says Jeff Brownstein.
A public meeting of all fishermen affected by Oil/gas exploration, within the 4Vn region, has been scheduled for the Steel Workers' Hall, Sydney at 10:00am September 19th, 2000. This meeting will discuss the next course of action that the fishermen will take.
For more information please contact:
North of Smokey Fishermen's Association
Ph: (902) 285-2276
MFU Local 6
Ph: (902) 929-2757
STATEMENT BY THE MARITIME FISHERMEN'S UNION REGARDING THE SITUATION IN THE MIRAMICHI BAY - Sept. 5 / 2000
We will make a statement regarding the situation in the Miramichi Bay and then take questions.
The Maritime Fishermen's Union is recognized as the representative of inshore fishermen under the Inshore Fisheries Representation Act of the Province of New Brunswick. Our fishermen rely on a number of ocean species to make their fishing year but lobster represents 75% of their annual earnings. Approximately 20 years ago our fishermen supported a licensing regime called the Bonafide policy. In effect the policy professionalized the inshore by requiring a person to chose between fishing as their principal occupation or another line of work. In other words, what we have now is a remarkable complement of dedicated full time fishermen who are the economic engine for over a hundred coastal villages along the Gulf coast of New Brunswick. I say remarkable because you will find very few places in the industrial world that has such a large and productive inshore fleet. In the immediate area of the Miramichi you have 200 inshore vessels supporting 600 fishermen who fish from Burnt Church, Néguac, Tabusintac, Val-Comeau, Tracadie, Baie-Sainte-Anne, and Pointe-Sapin. These communities are fishing dependent, there is really no other significant economic opportunity.
This is the social reality of the area and we have said and will continue to say that Burnt Church leaders will have to come to terms with this. Over the past winter and spring we had several contacts and meetings with Native leaders in Burnt Church. We went over how their members could get into our professionalized fishery and make a long term living out of it. We also tried to reconcile after the trap cutting incident of last October and had offered to replace any lost traps as part of reaching a basic agreement.
These kinds of exchanges came to an abrupt halt just prior to the spring lobster season when the promoters of the Burnt Church fishing plan effectively took over and rejected any discussions with the MFU. Among other things, this group proclaimed its own Burnt Church Fishery Act and some sort of sovereignty over its fishing plan. They also promised to fish come August in the closed season. Our position was that this was a regulatory matter for DFO, we expected basic enforcement as we expect everywhere in the lobster fishery.
We now find the issue has been elevated to the level of grand farce, partially as a result of a media hunger for simplistic confrontation and because the regulatory body DFO cannot find the will to close down the lobster fishery in the Bay. We have never been briefed on the unfortunate incident last Tuesday in the Bay that has been repeatedly flashed on television screens around the world and that has paralyzed our National Government.
Further, we will be engaging advisors to help us review the role of the media over the past month. It is our belief that there are media persons assigned to this story who have over identified with one group in this dispute and have mis-characterized the nature of the dispute; we will be particularly examining the work of the CBC in this regard.
In the meantime, we must find a very speedy resolution to the fishing aspect of this dispute. It is imperative that the Government of Canada call a complete halt to all lobster fishing in the waters of the Miramichi Bay.
We are asked what will our fishermen do. We can only answer this: the Maritime Fishermen's Union will not support, organize or encourage any direct actions in the water that takes enforcement into our own hands but we will use all the peaceable means at our disposal to ensure basic enforcement of our members and their communities livelihoods is done.
We will also say this. Everything about the history of the MFU tells you that we were formed to organize the underdog, the inshore fishermen who were years ago scheduled by the planners to disappear. We are organized on principles of fairness and without prejudice on the basis of language, creed, race, and colour. We are absolutely in solidarity with Native peoples efforts to break years of poverty and injustice but solidarity is not a one sided proposition and we refuse to give credence to a dead end declaration of sovereignty that will inevitably isolate small bands of people and mislead them into thinking that they are not interdependent with the rest of us. Further, those who propose to be leaders in the community surely cannot ask the tiny band at Burnt Church to carry the burden of what is clearly an unresolved National issue of the relations between our first peoples and the broader society.
And, no one should ask ordinary hard working inshore fishermen to pay the price for decades of National ineptitude towards one of our founding peoples. The fishing itself in the Bay simply has to stop. There has to be a moratorium and there cannot be boats on the water fishing while the larger issues are being sorted out.
There is so much more that could be said but with respect to specific strategies of the MFU we cannot get into them here.
Amherst, NS - July 25, 2000
The Atlantic Policy Congress (APC) of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat Inc. and the Maritime Fishermen's Union (MFU) wish to make a joint statement regarding the desire of Hunt Oil, of Texas, to perform seismic testing this fall in the waters of Sydney Bight, specifically in the waters off Port Morien to Cape Smokey, without completing an extensive environmental assessment prior to exploring.
The APC Chiefs, in Resolution #47/99, demanded that two similar exploration surveys be stopped in the Port Hood to Cheticamp area last December, where a lease is held by Corridor Resources.
Now, the Canada/Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum board has chosen to by-pass the environmental assessment process regarding oil and gas exploration off its shores, and plan to issue these permits.
"These exploration permits will have major impacts on the eco-systems in those areas," said Chief Lawrence Paul, Co-chair of APC, "and may damage or destroy many of the fish stocks that are there."
"We are concerned about the lack of both the Federal and Provincial governments regulations to protect these inshore areas," said Chief Second Peter Barlow, Co-chair of APC. "The precedent they are setting by issuing these permits without conducting environmental assessments are endangering the marine life and the communities reliant on those resources."
"The commercial fishery in Sydney Bight is worth more now than it ever was and remains the backbone of the economy of coastal Cape Breton," said Jeff Brownstein, President of Local 6, Maritime Fishermen's Union. "Our groundfish stocks show signs of rebuilding, our crab stocks are booming and we have put into place conservation measures to improve our lobster fishery by doubling egg production. It is absolutely criminal to consider seismic exploration which could kill shellfish and fish eggs and larvae as well as disrupt their migration patterns."
The Atlantic Chiefs and the Maritime Fishermen's Union are demanding that Minister Dahliwal put a halt to the issuance of these permits and live up to his responsibilities laid out in the legislation regarding protecting the habitat.
JJ Bear - Communications, APC - 902-667-4007
John G. Paul - Executive Director, APC - 902-667-4007
Jeff Brownstein - President, Local 6 MFU - 902-929-2757
Mike Belliveau - Executive Secretary, MFU - 506-532-2485
October 2, 1998
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
200 Kent Street
15th Floor, Suite 1570
Via Fax: 613-943-1943
Please resign as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
In your short time in the office of Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, you have alienated the majority of fishermen across Canada even more than we already were, which was severe enough.
Inshore fishermen across this country have suffered enough through the gross mismanagement of your Department in the past. Yet rather than assume any responsibility, you have consistently ignored the real issues; denied any responsibility; and even worse, you are determined to perpetuate the damage done by your department in the past, by proceeding in the future in the same unsustainable ways. The best example of this perpetuating the damage is your plan for the "Southern Gulf Index Fishery", where you choose to reward the fleet that did the most damage in the first place, and ignore 92% of the fishermen in the region.
Your latest ploy of arrogance is to force out George Baker from Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Fisheries and Oceans. In fact, you have chosen to ignore and dismiss the extensive Report of 17 Members of Parliament, who, for the first time in a long time, actually listened to the concerns of fishermen on this Coast. This Report barely scratched the surface, and actually showed the need for a full-scale inquiry into the mismanagement of your department and constantly growing alienation between your Department and the fishermen of Canada.
You have ignored the Report; show no respect for the 17 of your peers who put it together, and now you have forced out the Chairman, George Baker, because his work was not done, and you will not allow any criticism. Therefore we join with the growing number of fishermen's organizations on both Coasts in asking you to bring back George Baker, and do the Honourable thing yourself, and resign as Minister of DFO, so that somehow we can pick up the pieces and see how DFO and fishermen of Canada might actually work toward co-management.
President, Local 6, MFU
cc:Hon. Jean Chretien,P.M.
Members of Parliament