Native-only B.C. fishery sparks protest

DFO officers make arrests, collect evidence as non-native commercial fishermen drop nets in Fraser River during native-only salmon fishery

B.C. Alliance MP John Cummins was among dozens of people charged with illegally fishing on the Fraser River Saturday during a native-only salmon catch.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans set aside two days this weekend exclusively for the Tsawassen and Musqueam bands.

The policy has pitted non-native commercial fishermen against native fishermen for several years.

Ottawa's arrangement is racist, according to the B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition, which backed Saturday's protest. A spokesman for the group, Phil Eidsvik, says it puts non-native commercial fishermen out of work.

"Do you want to go to work on Monday and be told you can't go to work because your parents are the wrong race?"

Eidsvik says his group wants one commercial fishery under one set of rules, as was the case before the program began in 1992.

"We're not talking about an aboriginal-rights fishery today. We're not talking about a food fishery," he says. "This fish today being caught by the Musqueam and Tsawassen bands is being sold."

Cummins, who was in Eidsvik's boat, was not interviewed. The MP is to appear in court in Vancouver in September.

Native fishermen will be allowed to catch about 30,000 sockeye this weekend. It's a right they've earned, says Edward John, Grand Chief of the First Nations Summit.

"I think we fought hard for the courts in this country to recognize that there's an aboriginal right to fish," he says.

There have been violent protests over native fishing rights on Canada's East Coast for several years.

On Thursday, the federal government and a Mi'kmaq band council in New Brunswick reached an agreement that both sides hope will bring peace to the waters near the Burnt Church reserve.