‘We are one people’: U.S. tribal fishermen plead guilty in Canada

On Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans escorted the U.S. fishing vessel Miss Tiffany to St. George, New Brunswick. The vessel, owner and operator Saugum Francis, and four crew members were detained with the boat. The Miss Tiffany had been lobstering in the border waters of the St. Croix River, near the Passamaquoddy Reservation at Pleasant Point, in Maine. The captain and all but one of the crew are members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

According to DFO spokesman Todd Somerville, all five were taken before a judge in St. John, New Brunswick, on Friday morning, Dec. 7, and pleaded guilty to violating Section 4-1 of Canada’s Coastal Fisheries Protection Act.

“We had information that a vessel of American origin was fishing over the line. Our officers boarded the vessel and found that the captain and crew were all American citizens, and took them into custody,” says Somerville. While most Passamaquoddy fishermen believe they have a right to fish in all their territorial waters — recognized by the Canadian Supreme Court’s 1999, Marshall Decision — Somerville declined to comment on the tribal status of those detained.

“We need to exercise that right, or we are publicly admitting we don’t have it,” says Adam Newell, a Passamaquoddy lobsterman who regularly sets gear in Canadian waters. “I was summoned last year, but they dropped it. I think if those guys had held out, the charges would have been dropped.” But he notes they would have had to stay in jail for an indefinite period of time.

The issue is complex. According to Hugh Akagi, Chief of the Passamaquoddy in New Brunswick, the tribe there is negotiating with Canada and the DFO so that all tribal fishers can exercise their rights without conflict on the water.

“We are one people,” says Akagi. “But each region within our territory has its own rules. Fishers coming into our region need to be respectful of our rules to avoid compromising our negotiations.”

Newell favors co-management, but he and other Passamaquoddy fishermen refuse to let that determine whether they will fish in Canadian waters.

“I have a more radicalist point of view,” he says. “We can negotiate for a limited fishery. Or we will just do it.”

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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