For the first time, the chief of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq band, along with four other aboriginal leaders from Newfoundland and Labrador, met with the federal government to discuss the need for more Aboriginal Fishery Guardians. 

Guardians work to help fisheries officers enforce aboriginal fishing agreements.

"If there's no presence, people will end up illegal fishing and poaching," band chief Brendan Mitchell told CBC Radio's Central Morning.

"These gentlemen are watch dogs. They're there to make sure things are being done right, and people take these river guardians very serious."

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the patrol program is designed to "monitor the aboriginal fishery, record the catch and maintain compliance with the communal licence."

Guardians also patrol rivers for illegal activities and monitor landing stations.

Exploits River atop Red Cliff Janice Rowsell

Mitchell says more guardians are needed to monitor the massive river system in central Newfoundland, like the Exploits River. (Submitted by Janice Rowsell)

The program, Mitchell said, provides a number of guardians to patrol rivers in central and western Newfoundland. 

"In the last couple of years, we've had six guardians on the west coast and four only in the Gander river system," he said. 

Mitchell believes the central area system needs more guardians — perhaps even more than the west coast. 

But primarily, the band chief would like to see more funding given to the program. 

"The same amount we've been asked to use 20 years ago, despite inflation and other things, is still being used today," he said. 

Guardians, he said, encourage conservation and work to ensure the river systems remain intact for years to come.

First meeting

All five of the province's aboriginal leaders met with Federal Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo in St. John's last week.

Mitchell said Tootoo has a great sense of humour, and seems very interested in what's happening in the province, and across the county, with respect to aboriginal affairs. 

Hunter Tootoo

In a show of support for Newfoundland and Labrador's seal harvest, Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo arrived at his meeting with Premier Dwight Ball wearing a sealskin jacket and tie. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC )

"The deputy minister was there also, as were six members of parliament for Newfoundland," he said. 

Mitchell said the Liberal government, both provincially and federally, seems very interested in the aboriginal movement.

Following his meeting with Tootoo, Mitchell said he also sat down with DFO. 

"They recognize that we are doing valuable work on behalf of conservation ... and there seems to be a view that we are going to be getting some help, and I hope that happens for us — and I'll keep reminding them until we do."

Mitchell will sit down with DFO again on Feb. 2.

He said he hopes to have secured more funding for guardians in central Newfoundland by the end of that meeting.