ver the past five centuries,
the fishery resources that communities in Atlantic Canada have depended
on for thousands of years have dwindled rapidly. In some cases,
overfishing has caused them to disappear completely, and competition
for scarce resources has created a growing crisis between Native and
non-Native fishermen in Atlantic Canada.
This situation came to a head following the Supreme Court of Canada's
Marshall decision in September 1999, which re-affirmed rights
guaranteed in treaties signed between the Crown and the Mi'kmaq in
1752 and 1760. These treaties, which recognized aboriginal fishing,
hunting, and trading rights within traditional Mi'kmaq territories,
were re-affirmed on the condition that Native fishermen seek a
"moderate living" and do not endanger the survival of the fish
In the Fall of 1999, non-Native fishermen appealed the Marshall
decision, requesting that it be re-heard. The appeal was denied.
Instead, the Supreme Court clarified its opinion, limiting aboriginal
rights to fishing only, while imposing the same federal licensing
regulations on both the Mi'kmaq and on non-Native fishermen. However,
the terms of the regulations - including seasonal rules and
amounts to be caught - are strongly contested. The long-term
social and economic implications of these decisions and the new
arrangements they require remain to be seen.
Of course, the very survival of Atlantic fishery extends well beyond
these Canadian issues. Today, the future of an ancient tradition and
a modern industry hangs in the balance, in the face of competing
national and community-based regional interests.