Mills Kills Passamaquoddy-State Elvers Agreement
Leaders of the Passamaquoddy Tribe were disappointed and frustrated when a proposed negotiated fishing agreement with the state was terminated at the last minute by Attorney General Janet Mills based on a claimed “constitutional” issue that Indian law experts say is not supported in the law.
A delegation of Passamaquoddy leaders traveled to the Maine capitol of Augusta on February 12 to attend a meeting of the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources to finalize a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Department of Marine Resources for the 2014 elvers’ fishery season. The agreement had been hammered out over months of negotiation. Instead of finalizing the agreement, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said that the department was backing off its support of the agreement because of “legal concerns” raised by the attorney general.
The broken agreement was just another example of the state’s refusal to deal with the tribe in good faith, tribal leaders said.
“It is so bad that if the Passamaquoddy Tribe came up with a new way to grow grass so it was greener and healthier, the state of Maine would reject it,” Tribal Councilor Newell Lewey said in a media release issued by tribal leaders. “They just don’t want us to succeed—even if we make it better for everyone.”
The MOA was to resolve a controversy over how the tribe and state would issue elver fishing licenses and address a conservation order from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to reduce the catch of the tiny translucent baby American eels for this year’s 10-week elvers season, which begins the last week of March. The commission threatened to shut down the fishery if conservation measures were not taken. In early February the Marine Fisheries Commission met with the tribe and the state and approved the state plan and tacitly, the Memorandum of Agreement, to meet the commission’s conservation goal to protect the American eel population.
“We were cautiously optimistic [going into the meeting],” Chief Joseph Socobasin said. “We were coming out of a Joint Tribal Council Meeting [between the Passamaquoddy communities at Sipayik and Motahkomikuk where the MOA was approved by a nine to one vote. We had a reliable mandate to seal the agreement.”
“By lunchtime, the agreement had dissolved before our eyes,” said Vice-Chief Clayton Sockabasin, who is also the chair of the Fisheries Committee.
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