The Marshall Decision
DFO's Policy of Divide and Rule: Facts Are Stubborn Things

31 October 1999

This interview first appeared in The Marxist-Leninist Weekly, the national publication of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), 31 October 1999 and was subsequently reprinted in Shunpiking's Supplement, "Those Who Area Saying NO! to DFO" in September, 2000.

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A lot has been reported about "confrontations" between Mi'kmaq and non-native fishermen in Yarmouth, at Burnt Church and on the south coast of Newfoundland, since the Marshall Decision of the Supreme Court on 17 September 1999. The following reference material -- an interview with Tony Seed of shunpiking magazine -- is reproduced to clarify what lies behind the reporting of the monopoly-controlled media.

Interview, TONY SEED, Shunpiking Magazine, September, 2000 / Volume 5, Number 36

TML Weekly: Are these "confrontations" spontaneous, or is there something deeper which lies behind them?

Tony Seed: Facts are stubborn things. They show that these "confrontations" are orchestrated by the federal Cabinet directly, with the participation of the media and representatives of monopoly interests, including various political forces. They show that the premise underlying media coverage and the stands of federal representatives, according to whom the Supreme Court decision upholding the treaty rights of the Native peoples to fish, hunt and harvest is the source of the problem, is ill-intentioned in order to set the fishermen at each other's throats while the DFO and private monopoly interests benefit.

A review of the historical record of the lobster fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia demonstrates that the bureaucracy of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has never ceased interfering, even for a moment, with the livelihoods of the fishing communities of this region from the standpoint of suppressing their economic independence from total monopoly dictate. The fisheries department has a similar record of unindicted crimes which it has committted continuously against the Native and the other working people of the fisheries in the Miramichi Bay region in New Brunswick, sometimes in the name of conservation, sometimes even under various social-chauvinist banners such as defending the rights of the Acadian people, or defending the 200-mile limit and the sovereignty of Canada.

The Acadian people, as you know, settled the area in the mid-18th century. They were brutally expelled by the British in 1755. The village of Burnt Church itself got its name when the British General James Wolfe received word that some Acadians had turned up in this area only a few years after being expelled and his army led an expedition to the area and burned the place to the ground.

Newfoundland Mikmaqs are part of the Mi'kmaq Nation

In Newfoundland, where during colonial times the Beothuk were completely exterminated, the provincial premier Tobin had the gall to lecture the Mi'kmaq about territorial limits to the exercise of the rights recognized by the Marshall Decision. Even though it is more than clear to any but the most hidebound racist that the rights in question pertain not to a territory in terms of modern jurisdictions but to a people and their descendants, Tobin attempted to divide the Conne River Mi'kmaq band, long resident in that province, and the Mi'kmaq from Nova Scotia, who he called "unwelcome poachers". In this way, through sleight of hand, he also suggested that Mi'kmaq bands are seeking to "steal" local crab fishermen's livelihoods under the protection of the Marshall Decision.

In this way, the attempt is also made to persuade them that they have no issue with the government of Newfoundland, only with "poachers." This comes as news to members of that band and their descendants, who have been seeking compensation and a land claim settlement since the Smallwood Government built the Baie d'Espoir hydro project in the 1960s, flooding and destroying their traditional hunting grounds.

Newfoundland governments have also enthusiastically sought to extend into perpetuity the low-level military flying training by NATO in Goose Bay, which has widely dispersed the caribou herds beyond the normal hunting grounds of the Labrador Innu, and thereby gravely disrupted their traditional livelihood. For several decades, the governments of Newfoundland have also collaborated with the federal government in disrupting and resettling the Davis Inlet community, completely eliminating their traditional hunting livelihood by sticking them on an island and leaving them there to rot without providing any of the promised services.

The ruse of "conservation"

TML Weekly: Explain to us how the issue of conservation is used to derive the fishers, native and non-native, of their rights.

Tony Seed: The DFO has justified the entire licencing system throughout the fisheries as something needed to "enhance conservation of the fish stocks", by controlling or forestalling the outbreak of a harvesting free-for-all out on the fishing grounds. But the fact is the current licencing regimes were cooked up and imposed by the DFO in one fishery after another beginning in the early 1970s, under conditions that had nothing to do with any concern for conservation.

Before the modern regime, fishers obtained a commercial permit from the federal fisheries department to fish a particular species for a nominal fee.

In the late 1960s, far from being concerned about conservation, the DFO decided to convert the entire Atlantic salmon fisheries of eastern Canada into a private domain of the rich. The federal government proceeded to expel all commercial fishers in the most productive salmon fisheries of New Brunswick (and Newfoundland) by buying back their licences and their gear. Typifying the semi-feudal backwardness which the rich of this country retained uniquely in New Brunswick when it came to fishing rights, private lodges along the salmon rivers continued to enjoy riparian rights to the mid-line of the river. That is, although these properties and fishing privileges that go with them are leased from the Crown, the lessee enjoyed absolute unabridgeable ownership rights over any and all fish passing through the leased territory.

Anyone else, other than a Native person, wanting to fish on these rivers was confined to so-called Crown waters outside or in between the enormous portions of shoreline appropriated by the private leases. They were subject to regulations and decrees based on the premise that the fish and other resources in the river waters belong to the Crown, not to private individuals.

New Brunswick native people along these rivers annually exercise their aboriginal rights to fish salmon. To block the commercial fishers' resistance to the federal government's unilateral expropriation of their livelihoods, and especially to prevent any development of unity in action with Native fishers, the federal and provincial governments, abetted in particular by the Irving-owned capitalist press in New Brunswick and by the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a very rich men's club of salmon sport-fishing enthusiasts claiming to be concerned about "conservation" -- whipped up a series of hysterical campaigns.

The Native salmon fishers were blamed for the "crisis" in the salmon stocks, regardless of the plunder of the salmon off Greenland en route to Atlantic Canada by monopoly fleets from Denmark, and regardless of the serious devastation visited by the wood-harvesting practices of the forest-products monopolies on wildlife habitat throughout New Brunswick, including soil erosion along river-banks caused by massive clear-cutting.

Although these campaigns temporarily incited a small number of the commercial salmon fishers to attack the Native people, the commercial salmon fishers in the main resisted the illegal unilateral expropriations of their livelihoods by the government.

By 1972, the intractability of this resistance drove the government to the point of despatching two naval gunboats to the mouth of the Miramichi to intimidate the people's struggle and criminalize it.

The resistance movement and licensing

Licencing of commercial fisheries on the broad scale also began during the early 1970s, starting with the lobster fisheries of southwestern Nova Scotia. At that time, the federal government was becoming increasingly concerned about the growing opposition based throughout the fishing outports of this region to the growing plunder of all the fish stocks, inshore and offshore, by foreign factory fishing fleets led by the former Soviet Union. The government attacked by mobilizing as its allies the wealthiest fishery enterprises of the area, who were feeling immediately threatened by the growing harvesting pressure on all the fish stocks, including lobster. The solution put forward was to re-design the licencing system in the lobster fishery to limit entry, i.e. to forbid any return to the lobster fishery of more than 1,600 fishermen who were deemed to be "part-time," "not professional" or "moonlighters".

This led to a big resistance struggle in the fall-winter lobster season of 1976-77 throughout southwestern Nova Scotia. During one mass meeting in another lobstering district of Nova Scotia, when fishers called the DFO to account over the entry-limitation objectives of the new licencing scheme, a department official admitted that, in fact, the new limited-entry licencing plans were designed with the 1971-72 experience of the commercial salmon fishers on the Miramichi in mind.

The fishers' subsequent experience in every other fishery of the east coast, without exception, has been that licencing regulations are enforced only to wipe out the livelihoods of the financially weakest or most vulnerable individuals and communities. Backed by these licencing regimes, the monopolies were able to concentrate fish plants and fleets at the strategically most profitable outports, relying on federal regulations to drive out of the fishery anyone not wishing to accept the new rules of the game.

DFO pseudo-science

The scientific community's experience provides further proof of what a fraud it is to link the system of setting catch quotas in various species as the basis for issuing licences, to the avowed aim of "conserving fish stocks." In 1992, the federal fisheries minister of the day, John Crosbie, was compelled to admit in Parliament that the stock conservation models used by the DFO to set the quotas and then apportion them to individual participants in the form of licences have predicted the size of any commercial fish stocks no closer than 30 per cent more or 30 per cent less than what estimates from actual catches would indicate. In a widely-publicised scandal during 1997, the federal government tried to fire various younger fisheries scientists who were blowing the whistle on how fraudulent and unscientific the department's quota-setting mechanism actually was. They were threatened with their jobs when they exposed that these quotas had nothing to do with the actual state of the fish stocks found by the scientists out at sea during a series of test-fisheries.

Because of long experience, working people have learned not to trust any of the government's bland assurances about their present or future livelihood.

TML Weekly: Can you further elaborate on the role of the DFO?

Tony Seed: Managing the fishery on the basis of anti-people dictate is the order of the day at the federal fisheries department. Their "management policy" of setting one section of the people against the other, ruling by executive decrees disguised as "new conservation regulations" and criminalizing the working people's open resistance, has been the troublemaker in the fisheries all along.

The arbitrary rule and unleashing of permanent insecurity by the DFO among the fishing communities has taken place at the behest of the largest fishing monopolies and sections of the rich involved with converting certain inland fisheries, such as the Atlantic salmon, into their private domaine. The specific issue on which some non-Mi'kmaq fishers have been instigated to attack Mi'kmaq fishers is that there is some so-called "double standard" of "licences" for "non-Native fishers" versus treaty rights for Native people. In fact, there is one tier for the fisheries cartel, and another for the fishermen.

The Marshall Case demonstrated once again that the hereditary rights of the Native people are acknowledged by the federal and provincial governments only in the breach, even though they have existed all along and will always exist regardless of what any court has to say. And just as the rich have always attacked and never respected aboriginal rights, they have also erected the system of licencing in the various commercial fisheries so as to conserve nothing but the rights of the fisheries department and the monopolies to interfere at will in the lives and livelihoods of the fishing communities.

Double standards about the double standard

“The specific issue on which some fishermen have been instigated to attack Mikmaq fishermen is that there is some so-called ‘double standard’ or ‘two tiers’ of ‘licences’ for ‘non-Native fishermen’ versus treaty rights for Native people. In fact, there is one tier for the fisheries cartel, and another for the fishermen.”

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