A pretty decent editorial coming out of the South Delta Leader newspaper… nice to see a balanced perspective on this issue.
Also curious why a federal government MP thinks its OK to break the law — yet be a member of a governing party that is coming down “tough on crime”?
It’s a curious message really… as government MPs and MLAs often have little issue with standing on their soap box screaming about “illegal blockades” that First Nations often have to erect to get their point across. And government reps shouting about how “renegades” and “criminals” must be prosecuted…
Commercial fishermen who fished illegally to protest the rules governing separate aboriginal fisheries should pay their fines and move on.
More than 40 fishermen were fined $200, including Delta-Richmond East MP John Cummins, for illegal fishing in 2001 and 2002, and B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition spokesperson Phil Eidsvik has said it’s a conviction they will appeal.
Yes, enforcement has been lax when it comes to policing aboriginal fisheries on the Fraser River, and that needs to change. Many contend First Nations’ food fish catches are sold on the black market (something many aboriginal fisherman would argue should not be illegal), and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans needs to step up to help alleviate some of the friction.
But Eidsvik and others argue the separate fishery for aboriginal people is, basically, racist.
“A number of them (fishermen) have come to me and said, ‘I’m not going to pay a fine because I’m the wrong race,'” Eidsvik said earlier this week. “We have here a prosecution and enforcement policy based on race.”
Yes, First Nations fishermen who participate in a separate fishery are a different race than other fishermen, but that is not why First Nations have been granted the constitutionally protected right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes ahead of other users.
The purpose is to restore something which had been stolen or, at least, severely curtailed for more than a century.
First Nations’ pre-existing right to fish the river was curbed by colonialism. A fishery they’d enjoyed for hundreds—or thousands—of years was restricted through policies of assimilation and subordination. Access to fish was cut as far back as the 1860s, and tightened further in the early 1900s. At one point aboriginal people were not classified as Canadian citizens and therefore not allowed to have commercial fishing licences unless they gave up aboriginal status.
Today, the limitation of access—an historic wrong—is corrected, to some extent, through legislation and treaty.
Having said that, each First Nation has its own history. Not all aboriginal people can be lumped together as a group. As treaties are negotiated, fishing rights are determined on a case-by-case basis based on each nation’s claim to a place.
Because of today’s shortage of salmon and the difficulty making a living as a commercial fisherman, the tensions are understandable.
But it’s simplistic to put the spotlight on race when we talk about aboriginal fisheries.
When we talk about separate openings for First Nations on the river, let’s keep some context and history in mind.
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It’s also important to consider the numbers on this issue. For the last 50+ years (with the exception of the last few years of severe dwindling of runs), the commercial salmon fishery has accounted for well over 90% of the total salmon catch in BC — closer to 95% most years.
The First Nation or aboriginal fishery has rarely been over 5%, probably closer to 3% with sport fisheries making up the other percentage.
So… really… if we’re going to talk about “policing” or at least monitoring the fisheries — maybe we should distribute the limited (and constantly dwindling) ‘compliance and enforcement’ budgets based on concentration/percentage of catch.
(Side note: the sport fishery is the least monitored of all the fisheries, with a growing percentage of the catch)