Aug 20/98: Native fisherman angry over protest


The Province
August 20, 1998
Charlie Anderson

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

Native fishermen are angry at federal fisheries officials for not taking the big stick to a protest fleet in the Fraser yesterday. An armada of about 150 boats dropped nets in the river yesterday to protest a federally approved native-only commercial fishery conducted by the Burrard, Tsawwassen and Musqueam bands.

As protesters hauled in salmon, enforcement officers from the department of fisheries and oceans handed out warnings and took videotape as a prelude to prosecutions under the federal Fisheries Act.

Native fishermen were infuriated that the officers didn't do more. "This is a double standard," said Chief Gail Sparrow of the Musqueam, who fired off a complaint letter to DFO's regional director-general, Donna Petrachenko. "Whenever we participate in a protest fishery, DFO puts on more guardians and more officers," said Sparrow. "They confiscate boats, nets, everything."

Sparrow said the multitude of protesters effectively cut off the supply to the native fishermen by dropping large nets at the mouth of the Fraser.

Calling the protesters "rednecks," Sparrow said it was time discrimination and racism ended relative to the native fishery. "We never sold our rights," said Sparrow. "We're just exercising our traditional rights as the fishers of these waters of B.C."

Yesterday's fishery falls under a pilot program agreement between DFO and various bands in which the catch can be sold.

The B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition believes that fishery is illegal, and points to a ruling of provincial court Judge Howard Thomas, who decided DFO regulations allowing the aboriginal fishery had no validity. That decision is under appeal. Robert Martinolich, DFO's acting head of enforcement, said charges would be laid, although they would not likely go to court until after the appeal is heard. "It's illegal fishing," said Martinolich, "and we are attempting to gather evidence on all those who participate in the protest side of the fishery with the intent of prosecuting them all." He estimated 142 boats were involved.

Phil Eidsvik of the coalition said the protest was peaceful. The protesters will be forced to sell their catch privately, however, because fish buyers wouldn't take them.

The Sto:lo band, the Fraser River's largest, was calling for protest fish landed to be deducted from the quota of a general commercial fishery to begin today.

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