Burnt Church braces for confrontation

The fragile talks in the dispute over New Brunswick's lobster fishery have fallen apart. Burnt Church is on the brink of violence as federal authorities prepare to seize native traps and commercial fishermen threaten to take matters into their own hands.

The RCMP have increased their presence around the reserve, and dozens of native warriors continue to patrol the area.

There is speculation federal fisheries officials and the RCMP are preparing to seize native traps overnight or on Thursday.

Mediator Bob Rae left Burnt Church Wednesday saying the parties "are too far apart for mediation." He was returning to Toronto.

The mediation breakdown happened just one day after a supposed breakthrough. On Tuesday, fisheries officials and native fishermen agreed to a joint count of native lobster traps in Miramichi Bay.

But the two sides could not agree on the details of the count. The Burnt Church band refused to remove traps with native tags. The government does not recognize those markings and has threatened to seize the traps.

Commercial fishermen tired of waiting

The natives' defiance has angered commercial non-native fishermen who are tired of waiting for a solution to the conflict. They are threatening to take native traps out of the water if nothing is done soon.

The commercial fishermen also say Ottawa offered them $10,000 to $12,000 each to stay away from the native traps. But they rejected that proposal.

"They want to offer $10,000, but we don't want it," one commercial fisherman said. "We don't need it. Why give the native people the right to fish and do what they want?"

There's been no confirmation of the offer from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

But Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal made it clear his patience is running out.

"I think that if we don't have this resolved very quickly, I said I'll take action, and I will," he said Wednesday.

Interpretations differ over Marshall ruling

The conflict has been ongoing since the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the native right to fish based on centuries-old treaties.

There are conflicting interpretations of the so-called Marshall decision. The Mi'kmaq say they'll keep setting lobster traps because the ruling allows them to fish how and when they choose.

But the federal government says it retains the right to regulate all fisheries. And non-native fishermen say there has to be one set of rules for everyone.

On the reserve Wednesday, Ovide Mercredi, former chief of the Assembly of First Nations, made an emotional appeal for peace.

"I'm calling on the Canadian people to pray for this community and for their politicians so they use reason, not violence," he said.

A vigil was held Wednesday night on the wharf at Burnt Church, as people watch and wait to see if the violence that flared last fall between native and non-native fishers will appear again.