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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

September 11, 2000

U of G profs help First Nations, governments make history

In a historic first, two First Nations have signed an agreement with the provincial and federal governments that recognizes their aboriginal and treaty rights to manage their own fishery. More than a dozen University of Guelph professors, researchers and colleagues worked on issues associated with the accord.

The fishing agreement was signed in August by the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, Saugeen First Nation, Government of Canada and Province of Ontario. Under the four-year agreement, the two First Nations will co-manage their commercial fishery on the Main Basin and Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. The fishery is based largely on lake whitefish and bloater chub and has annual gross revenues of about $3 million. It also employs about 10 per cent of both First Nations' populations.

The agreement comes after decades of conflict, court battles and negotiations over who has the right to manage native fisheries in Lake Huron: the Saugeen First Nation and Chippewas of Nawash, who share treaty rights for their commercial fisheries, or the federal and provincial governments. There were numerous unpleasant incidents similar in nature to the current rift between native fishermen in New Brunswick and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said Steve Crawford, a researcher at the University of Guelph's Axelrod Institute of Ichthyology. Crawford reviewed and analysed policies and management practices and helped develop biotechnical aspects of the agreement.

"Many boats were burned and sunk over the years by non-aboriginals and there were some public confrontations and even stabbings," he said. "When you look at what is going on in New Brunswick right now, in 10 years, it could develop into an agreement like we have right now."

Negotiations leading up to the fisheries agreement began in 1993 after the courts ruled that the two First Nation bands never gave up their rights to manage their own fisheries affairs when they signed various treaties with the Crown in the 1800s. The decision followed a court case that stemmed from criminal charges brought by the Province of Ontario against Chippewas of Nawash fishermen. The University of Guelph's role in research associated with the accord expanded over the years and ended up involving several faculty, researchers and graduate students from the departments of zoology, population medicine, agricultural economics and business, philosophy, and mathematics and statistics, as well as the Institute of Ichthyology.

"This agreement was more than a hundred years in the making," said Prof. Kim Rollins, Department of Agricultural Economics and Business, who provided an economic analysis of the benefits of the commercial fishery to the Nawash First nation. She also analysed a cost structure of the fishing fleet and studied the importance of the fishery to the band's economic development. "These First Nation bands have been trying to get this fishery recognized as theirs since 1850s," Rollins said.

Under the agreement, the First Nation bands are responsible for licensing Nawash and Saugeen fishermen, monitoring fishery activity, collecting and exchanging fishery harvest data and biological field data, and establishing and modifying total allowable catches. The agreement also leads to the organization of a formal Saugeen Ojibway Fisheries Management Board.

Prof. David Noakes, Department of Zoology, has served as a facilitator and administrator for the university, government and First Nations. He has also been asked to examine the population and movements of fish in Lake Huron, particularly with respect to the impact of a nuclear generating station located near where whitefish live and spawn. Until now, little scientific monitoring of whitefish in the area has taken place. Noakes described his role in the agreement as "helping make dreams come true," by helping to provide needed tools with which the First Nations may more actively manage their own fisheries.

Rollins added that over the years, too many people have turned the issue into a "turf" battle over First Nations' right to manage their own affairs and the government's desire to protect and conserve the land and water. That simply is not the case, she said. The First Nations are actually pressing the provincial and federal governments to raise the standards of conservation regarding Great Lake fisheries. "In this respect, the First Nations have relied heavily on expertise and professional services of researchers at the University of Guelph," she says.

"But management is not the sole issue. This is also about their tradition of fishing for food, ceremony and commerce, and also their desire to conserve and protect the fish and areas that support their fisheries."

Steve Crawford, Axelrod Institute of Ichthyology (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3544

Prof. Kim Rollins, Department of Agricultural Economics and Business (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3890

Prof. David Noakes, Department of Zoology (519) 824-4120, Ext. 2747

For media questions, contact Lori Hunt, Media Relations Officer, Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338.

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