On Wednesday, February 12, 2014, a Passamaquoddy delegation traveled to Augusta, Maine to finalize a Memorandum of Agreement between the Tribe and the Department of Marine Resources. “We were cautiously optimistic,” said Chief Joseph Socobasin, “We were coming out of a Joint Tribal Council Meeting where the MOA was approved by a 9 to 1 vote. We had a reliable mandate to seal the agreement.”
“By lunchtime, the agreement dissolved before our eyes,” said Vice-Chief Clayton Sockabasin who is also the chair of the Fisheries Committee. The Passamaquoddy Fisheries Committee and Passamaquoddy Tribal Leadership entered into good-faith negotiations with the DMR last December. Last week the Tribe and the State met with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The Commission endorsed the State plan insofar as it reflected a solid agreement with the Tribe and embraced the conservation goals of the ASMFC.
“Because we are fishers, the fish—in this case the American eel—comes first. We amended our law to further our conservation efforts,” said Vera Francis, a member of the Passamaquoddy fishery committee. And then, the Tribe carefully negotiated with the DMR and Walter Kumiega, chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources. “We went to great lengths to make this historic bi-lateral agreement possible,” said Chief Socobasin. The agreement memorialized the following elements of the Tribal management plan.
1. Tribal members would use dip nets only.
2. The Tribe would reduce its Total Allowable Catch from 3,600 to 1650 pounds.
3. Tribal fishers would participate in the swipe card system required of state license holders.
4. The Tribe would continue to press its conservation measures at all life stages of the American eel.
In reflecting on the events of the day, Tribal Attorney Corey Hinton said, “The DMR showed up yesterday with draft language written into their bill that conceptually mirrored our open to individual quota plan. Yet DMR struck the language during the work session.” Hinton presented fully articulated legal arguments that addressed the equal protection concerns of the Attorney General. These arguments were rejected and no legal basis for that rejection was offered.
“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. They just don’t want us to succeed—even if we make it better for everyone,” said Tribal Councilor Newell Lewey.
With all of the uncertainty, the Passamaquoddy Tribe is certain that it will manage their own salt-water fisheries. “Yes, this is our reserved treaty right,” said Chief Socobasin, “But more importantly, it is who we are, who we always have been and who we will be as long as we are on this earth.”