September 2, 2010

Passamaquoddys vow they still will fish in federal waters



The Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Tribe will not stop fishing in federal waters, tribal officials say, despite a crackdown by regulators last week on a Passamaquoddy scalloping boat off Nantucket.

The boat, the Paulo Marc, was issued two citations while fishing in federal waters. One was for fishing without a permit and the other was for not having the required satellite tracking device.

Tribal leaders say they have been talking with regulators about increasing their fishing efforts in federal waters -- from three to 200 miles offshore -- which could have an effect on the overfished U.S. ground fishery.

"We are not going to knuckle under. It has come down to our survival," said Fred Moore, a member of the tribal council, a former representative in the Maine Legislature and a commercial fisherman.

At issue is the tribe's contention that it is exempt from U.S. fishing regulations. The Passamaquoddy Tribe has been in discussions with the National Marine Fisheries Service over its rights to fish in federal waters.

Moore said the tribe has been forced to fish in federal waters out of economic necessity and is trying to cooperate with the fisheries service in observing U.S. fishing regulations.

The Paulo Marc was stopped by the Coast Guard on Aug. 25 while scallop fishing around Nantucket, part of Massachusetts.

The captain admitted that he did not have a federal permit and presented a scallop permit issued by the Passamaquoddy Tribe, which can issue its own fishing licenses for waters within three miles of shore.

Patricia Kurkul, northeast regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, then issued a warning to the tribe that its members face charges and seizure of any catch taken from federal waters.

She said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the fisheries service's parent agency, is exploring the Passamaquoddies' assertion that they are exempt from U.S. fishing laws, but that doesn't mean the federal government recognizes those claims at the moment.

"They are not familiar with our indigenous rights," said Kani Malsom of Pleasant Point, an owner of the Paulo Marc. He declined to identify the captain who was stopped by the Coast Guard.

Citing a 60 percent unemployment rate, tribal members say they need to fish to survive, physically and economically. Moore, who is making another run for the Legislature, said no treaty exists between his tribe and the state or federal government that limits where the Passamaquoddies may fish.

He said the word Passamaquoddy means "people of the pollock," and pollock are as important to his tribe as buffalo are to the Lakota, Cheyenne and Plains tribes.

"The only treaty we have is with Massachusetts, in 1794, which quite clearly stipulates the Passamaquoddy Tribe and their heirs shall have the right to fish unmolested forever," said Moore.

Other tribal council members declined to speak, but acknowledged that they have approached U.S. regulators about their intentions to broaden their fishing efforts. Tribal Gov. Rick Doyle was not available for comment.

Moore said the tribe intends to observe all conservation rules, such as fishing gear sizes, fishing ground closures and satellite tracking. He said he hopes that talks with U.S. regulators will continue, despite the Paulo Marc incident.

National Marine Fisheries Service officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The issue is being followed closely by New England ground fishermen, who are heavily regulated.

If large numbers of Passamaquoddys start fishing for groundfish, the New England Fishery Management Council might have to tighten regulations even further, said Patricia Fiorelli, public affairs officer and fishing analyst for the council.

"We would have to reconsider our management of what would be a smaller pie," she said. "This is a whole new ball game."

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