Aboriginal Fishing Rights
Aboriginal fishing rights are a contentious issue in Manitoba. There has been a lot of resentment and misunderstanding between Aboriginal rights holders and non-aboriginal anglers. Both sides have accused the other of mis-managing fish stocks and taking more than their fair share. Unfortunately, whenever debates turns into a blame-games, both sides loose and future generations are the ones who suffer.
In my last blog, dated November 2, 2014, I described the current system of fish and wildlife management as a dysfunctional tri-party relationship. Non-aboriginals are regulated by the province, Metis are regulated by the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF), and First Nations rights are affirmed by the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement (1930), section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982). But the actual management of First Nation fishing rights is a mixture of Provincial regulation and local council regulations. The judgement on Sparrow (1990) allows for crowns to set hunting and fishing regulations for First Nations as long as they are given first priority. In my last blog I made the point that Aboriginals always maintained their sustenance fishing rights, and so it is the non-aboriginals who receive the rights to hunts and fish. In reality, however, the crown imposes regulations on all parties, and has typically adopted the stance of protecting the resources for the Aboriginals, for their “own good”. But does it have to be that way? If Aboriginals are entitled to manage their hunting and fishing resources, why not allow them? That proposition has been quite contentious, and this next case will describe how the crown is gradually relaxing its stance.
Dauphin lake case study
Dauphin lake is a watershed area that has for many years been the subject of fishing rights debates. An article in 2008  describes how non-aboriginal anglers were infuriated at seeing aboriginal anglers catch scores of walleye during the off-limits spawning season. They lamented that fact that they have worked hard at building up stocks by building new spawning grounds and releasing fry, and that all that hard work was wiped out by irresponsible right-based harvesters. On the other hand, Aboriginal anglers pointed out that once fishing season opens, the lake would be filled with sport anglers and they wouldn’t get enough food for the season. Both sides were resentful, and did not have any concern for the other’s needs.
How far have we come?
That was six years ago, and a lot has changed since then. In 2007 and 2008 the province worked together with elders from the West Region Tribal Council (WRTC) to begin a monitoring and education campaign among Aboriginal harvesters during the walleye spawning season . In 2009 and 2010, the province closed fishing to everyone during spawning season, and provided walleye fillets to Aboriginals who would other have fished for sustenance during that season . In 2011, limits were being imposed on Aboriginal harvesters to 6 fish a day by rod angling only , and in 2014 limits were imposed to release all walleye between 45 and 70 cm in length  during spawning season. Currently, the province and the WRTC are drafting and reviewing the “Dauphin Lake Resource Management Plan” , the purpose of which is to develop an integrated fish management plan that preserves fish stock and allows for rights harvesters to continue sustainable fishing. The memorandum of understanding  was drafted in 2009, and intended to be implemented by 2011. However, it is still in review phase  and a long way off from implementation.
Where are we now?
Judging by how long it is taking to review and revise the documents for a resource development plan, there must be a lot of challenges to overcome. When all stakeholders work together to develop a plan, compromises will be necessary. If all parties can lay their past grievances aside and develop a management plan based on communication and honest input from all parties, then it will become easier to convince all side that the compromises they need to make are worthwhile. The key to a successful outcome is the building of trust, using the input from stakeholders, and leaving the front-line management to the original rights-holders. Hopefully the outcome will be that the Dauphin Lake region becomes a model for sustainable fisheries across Canada and other jurisdictions.