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 miles to 200 miles offshore — which could have an effect on depleted U.S. groundfish stocks.

“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. Moore said the Passamaquoddys, who have been in discussions with the National Marine Fisheries Service over their fishing rights, have been forced to fish in federal waters out of economic necessity.

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

The captain said he did not have a federal permit and instead 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 for 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 Passamaquoddys’ assertion that they are exempt from U.S. fishing laws, but that doesn’t mean the federal government recognizes those claims.

“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 economically. Moore, who is making another run for the Legislature, said no treaty exists between his tribe and the state or federal governments that limits where the Passamaquoddys 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,” Moore said.

Other tribal council members acknowledged that they have approached federal 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, including regulations on the size of gear, the closure of grounds 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 in Washington could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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

If large numbers of Passamaquoddys start harvesting 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 ballgame.”

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]