Who is inciting a riot on the Souris Wharf and who is acting Illegally?

OPEN LETTER FROM PEI INSHORE FISHERMEN

By John Peter MacPhee and Mark Edgar Rose*

November 5, 2003 -- This past summer our fishing town was fortunate to host a great Canadian display -- the RCMP Musical Ride. This fall, after two years of being ignored at the negotiating table, we, the inshore fishermen of PEI, staged a peaceful civil protest. Similar to any union or federal civil service strike, we formed a picket line to prevent large seiner ships from fishing herring from our traditional fishing grounds. In response, the lawyer for the large corporate seiner owners said there were "hostages," the federal minister said, "the Government will not negotiate with a gun to its head," and Solicitor General Wayne Easter termed the action a "violent protest." This is the same Wayne Easter who led the tractor blockades of the PEI ferry in his life as a private citizen and President of the National Farmers Union, the same Wayne Easter who several years ago advocated us fishermen to blockade wharves in response to lobster disputes. Our small town was given a completely different display of music, the RCMP Easter Ride. Our peaceful protest line was greeted with the presence of RCMP attack dogs, emergency response teams complete with assault rifles, 100 riot police with canisters of tear gas, shields and baton, undercover officers with surveillance equipment, RCMP boats, drivers and attendant support resources.

It is clear that the federal Minister of Fisheries and the Solicitor General are doing their best to portray our fishing town as a hotbed of criminal activity and PEI fishermen as lawless criminals. The federal ministers are trying to create a riot where only peaceful picket lines exists. The federal ministers are trying to end our peaceful efforts for negotiating by stepping on us with massive force.

We ask you, the Canadian public, who is inciting a riot here, citizens or the federal government?

Who is acting illegally, independent fishermen on a picket line or corporate seiners destroying the environmental sustainability of our traditional fishery? We, inshore fishermen, independently own 40-ft fishing boats that employ one or two people. We fish close to the shore and return to port every night. We, inshore fishermen, fish for our vocation, we are not trained in another career; our livelihood and our families depend on the sustainability of our fishery. There are hundreds of us, independent inshore fishing boats from PEI fishing lobster, herring, and tuna. We are compelled to be responsible stewards of our fishing environment; we must protect the environmental balance in our fishing ground for our livelihood and future generations.

Seiners are large corporate-owned fishing ships. It appears the owners of the seiners have great political influence over the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. The seiner ships are environmental monsters, clearcutting fish stocks wherever they go. The seining ships do not allow for a sustainable fishery. Seining ships destroy fish stocks and they destroy fish habitat. We have seen the destruction of clearcut fishery before. These seining ships use small nets, legal for them, illegal for inshore fishermen. This small net is the same as the fishing net that former federal fisheries minister Tobin shot out of the water when the Spanish used them off the coast of Newfoundland. The small nets used by the seining ships clean out fishing stocks by taking immature stock. The seining ships dump large quantities of small fish at sea to die because it's illegal to take these small fish to shore. This dumping is an illegal fishing practice for inshore fishermen as we recognize it destroys our fish stocks. PEI inshore fishermen have 16 per cent of the gulf herring quota. These five seiner ships have moved into our traditional fishing grounds with a further 23 per cent of the quota. More than doubling the fishing on these herring stocks will destroy the herring fishing and the PEI economy.

A recent U.S. study confirms that herring is the main food source for lobster. It is also a food source for tuna and the beloved seal. If herring stocks are depleted by the five large seining ships on our traditional fishing grounds, we small fishermen lose our herring fishery, our lobster fishery and our tuna fishery. Instead of being hardworking, independent Canadian fishermen, we will be forced to join hand-out lines of a maximized fishery which time and time again has been the result of allowing large seiners onto our inshore fishing grounds. It is imperative that the inshore PEI herring stocks are protected for a sustainable fishery. The inshore fishermen of PEI have the support of inshore fishermen in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec's Madeleine Islands and the PEI's native fishers. Thousands of inshore fishermen in the Maritimes oppose the destructive clearcutting by the seining ships on inshore fishing grounds. The seiners have already destroyed the herring stocks of George's Bank, off Nova Scotia, and Chebucto Bay and Trinity Ledge, Newfoundland. For 20 years now herring was gone from PEI waters because of seiner ships fishing inshore waters. Smartly, Quebec's Madeleine Islands have a 12-mile limit to protect them from these environmental monsters.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives us the right to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province. Despite the riot squads, we are putting up a peaceful picket line to defend those rights. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives us the right for peaceful assembly. Despite a full force of RCMP, we are going to stand peacefully on our picket lines at the Souris wharf.

Edmond Burke once said that all evil requires is for a few good men to do nothing. We, the inshore fishermen of PEI, intend to stand on our peaceful picket line and the only way to stop us is for the federal government to suspend our civil liberties. We ask you, the Canadian public, who is inciting a riot on the Souris wharf and who is acting illegally? Is it hardworking Canadian fishing families or corporate fishing interests supported with the military forces of the state.

* John Peter MacPhee and Mark Edgar Rose are inshore fishers from Prince Edward Island.