April 3, 2013

Passamaquoddies say governor made threats over elvers

A spokesman reports LePage threatened reprisals as the tribe and state clash over who regulates the valuable fishery.

By North Cairn ncairn@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Gov. Paul LePage became enraged during a conference call about elver-fishing rules on Monday, according to Newell Lewey of Pembroke, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe who took part in the call.

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"Recently, the Passamaquoddy tribe has been accused of placing the glass eel fishery in such extreme danger that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission might force the shutdown of the state's glass eel fishery," the committee wrote. "Nothing can be further from the truth."

Lewey called the claim of excessive tribal fishing "an outright lie." He said the tribe has a set limit of 3,600 pounds of elvers and enforces it strictly with its own officer.

"In fact, the Passamaquoddy approach to the glass eel fishery is rooted in traditional knowledge of the species … and a profound scientific understanding of the ecology of the watershed, resulting in a strict conservation framework," the tribal release said. "This framework is superior to that of the state of Maine."

"There's a serious developing situation," Keliher told the committee. "The Passamaquoddy tribe has clearly drawn a line in the sand, and they are declaring that they have sovereignty."

He advised lawmakers to pass several provisions in an emergency measure, including:

Change license violations from civil to criminal infractions.

Set fines at a mandatory $2,000.

Require that license holders be able to provide photo identification so that officials could track use of the licenses and dealers could be certain who is selling to them.

Make data on landings available to the Bureau of Marine Resources/Marine Patrol.

The problem with poaching is so severe that it demands such careful monitoring and strong measures, said Keliher, who said he has hired an investigator for the department solely to probe fraud in the fishery.

"The governor is very concerned about criminalizing a whole fishery," said Keliher, who had met with LePage. "With the gold rush mentality with this fishery, it is entirely appropriate."

Johnson said, "I'd like to find another way."

He said he has been working to find a compromise in which the Passamaquoddy tribe would be allowed a catch quota rather than a license and gear limit.

Lewey said, however, that the tribe and its self-rule are not the problem. None of the issues came up until demand rocketed prices to more than $2,500 a pound in the fishery.

Asked when he thought LePage intended to initiate measures aimed at the tribe and its practices, Lewey said: "Right after the phone clicked."

This story was updated at 11:16 a.m. April 2 to correct the amount of the tribe's self-imposed catch limit. Incorrect information was provided by the tribe. It was later updated at 4:42 p.m. April 2 to correct the agency that employs Col. Joseph Fessenden.

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:



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