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.
* * *
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
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
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.
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
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
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.”