Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Elvers are prized by Maine tribes for both their price and their cultural value.

Passamaquoddy Tribe Amends Fishery Law to Protect Its Citizens From State Threat

Gale Courey Toensing

Those hopes for an agreement were dashed when the state reneged on the MOA after Attorney General Janet Mills raised alleged “constitutional” issues that Indian law experts said were not supported in the law.

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The legislature then went ahead and passed a bill containing provisions that did not have the tribes’ free, prior and informed consent as required by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration, which governs land and other rights and was endorsed in a joint resolution by both the Maine Senate and House of Representatives in April 2008.

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“We come to the table and negotiate with full transparency and intent to live up to our commitments,” Vera Francis, Fishery Committee member, said in a statement from Passamaquoddy leaders on April 5. “Each time, the state finds a way to force an unpalatable outcome. You would think that living up to their word would be a matter of honor. It is for us.”

Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the state Department of Marine Resources, could not be reached for comment. The decision to amend tribal law and limit individual catches was not easy and was based in part on threats from the state, Passamaquoddy leaders said.

 “Given the dire economic problems facing tribal members and the investment of two years in developing the elver fishery, the tribe made the difficult decision to amend their own law to assure safety for their fishers,” said Chief Joseph Socobasin, leader of the tribe’s Indian Township land, in the statement.

“It was important to do this, because when I met with [Maine] Governor [Paul] LePage on March 12, he threatened to bring in the National Guard at any hint of a disturbance on the river,” said Chief Clayton Cleaves of Sipayik (Pleasant Point). “We want our people to be safe. This is of paramount importance.”

Eel fishing is a vital part of Passamaquoddy culture, with Passamaquoddy eel camps noted on the earliest maps of the region, the leaders said. The tribe has preserved access to the traditional fishery for the tribal members, “but none of us are comfortable with what has happened,” said Vice-Chief Clayton Sockabasin, chair of the Fishery Committee. The individual quota will be about four pounds with a total tribal catch of 1,650 pounds, Lewey said.

“It’s the same amount for each licensee in our case. In the state’s CASE, it’s not; they assign different poundage to different people,” Lewey said. “We’re issuing licenses to any tribal member who wants one.”

Tribal members won’t be using fyke nets, he said.


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