An April court decision from the Supreme Court of British Columbia has been welcomed by the provincial organization that is frequently at the forefront of legal battles for the province’s fishermen.
The B. C. Fisheries Coalition found common ground with the courts when it came to a decision regarding the Lax Kw’alaams claim to exclusive Aboriginal commercial rights to North Coast fish.
In April, Madame Justice Deborah Satanove rejected those claims in a decision that resonated up and down the coast and in particular around the Prince Rupert and North coast area.
The Daily News examined the Fisheries Coalition reaction to the decision and how they feel the decision will impact on the North coast fishing industry as it prepares for DFO’s announcements on fishing plans for the 2008 commercial season.
The Daily’s story was its front page headliner in Thursday’s paper.
COURT’S DECISION WELCOMED BY B. C. FISHERIES WATCHDOG
The B. C. Fisheries Survival Coalition says fishermen can now work together
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, May 1, 2008.
Pages one and two
A recent court decision denying Lax Kw’alaams their claim to exclusive Aboriginal commercial rights to North Coast fish is a good decision for all fishermen, claims the B. C. Fisheries Survival Coalition.
In April, the Supreme Court of British Columbia rejected a claim by the Lax Kw’alaams Indian Band to an aboriginal commercial right to fish for all species in the North Coast waters of British Columbia. Represented by Chief Councillor Gary Reece, the band claimed priority commercial fishing rights in salmon, crab, halibut and all other fish species that migrate through, or reside in, North Coast waters, arguing that commercial fishing was an integral part of their pre-European contact aboriginal culture.
Furthermore, the coastal Tsimshian First Nation argued that DFO unjustifiably interfered with their aboriginal right to fish commercially and that the Fisheries Act and regulations did not apply to the fishing activities of the members of the band. The Supreme Court rejected all of the claims, and Madame justice Deborah Satanove held that historical documents “show quite clearly it was always Crown policy not to add exclusive fishing rights to reserves and that Indians were to have no special commercial rights over and above other fishermen.”
What the court ultimately held was that fish as a resource has always belonged to the public at large for the benefit of all Canadians, a decision Phil Eidsvik of the B. C. Fisheries Survival Coalition was pleased to hear.
“I’ve talked to a number of my fishing friends in Rupert and other places who follow these kinds of things, and we all feel it’s a good decision because it lets fishermen focus on what really matters, how to get more fish and how to get more money,” said Eidsvik. “Instead of having fishermen fighting among themselves over how to split up the pie, we’re all working together trying to figure out how to make a better pie.”
He says the group shares a lot of the Lax Kw’alaams’ complaints about the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ administration of the fisheries, but that they would rather have all groups working together for a common goal than have one group claim “the fish are all ours.”
“When I was a kid growing up in Rupert, fishing was a bigger force than even the pulp mill, and we need to get back to where Prince Rupert is a vibrant and wealthy fishing community again, and it shouldn’t matter what race you are,” said Eidsvik.
“It was summarized by Justice Wallace from the B. C. Court of Appeal in an earlier Aboriginal rights case, where a group on the Fraser River claimed rights to sell salmon commercially. He said with food, you can only eat so much. But financial needs are inexhaustible, and basically there aren’t enough fish in the ocean to satisfy a person’s financial needs.”
Susan Farlinger, Pacific regional director with DFO said that while this recent decision is an interesting one, it will not have any immediate effect on DFO’s ongoing relationship with the Lax Kw’alaams Band or other First Nations.
“We work with the First Nations up and down the coast, including the Tsimshian Tribal Council and the bands such as the Lax Kw’alaams Band, on several fronts and we will continue to do that,” said Farlinger.
“We work with them on arrangements about their food, social and ceremonial fishing, we work with them about getting access to the commercial fishery and we have a number of programs working with them on access. One is the Aboriginal Fishery Strategy, another is the Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative, and thirdly we work on ways to engage them with the management of fisheries.
“That work will continue, and we would not stop doing any of those programs as a result of this decision,”
Representatives from Lax Kw’alaams could not be reached for comment.