Volume 6, No. 1
Promoting Cooperation to Maintain and Enhance
winner gives meaning and roots to age-old philosophy
Editor’s note: Art Longard was an ardent believer in citizen volunteers as instruments to ensure the sustainability of the Gulf of Maine’s natural resources and in the need for government and citizens to work together to achieve those goals. As one of the seven original founders of the Gulf of Maine Council, he committed countless hours to the conservation of marine life in the Gulf of Maine. He died of cancer in 1997. In his honor, the Council bestows the Art Longard Award each year on an outstanding citizen volunteer living within the Gulf’s watershed.
By Andi Rierden, Editor
Arthur Bull is sitting in the Bay of Fundy Marine Resource Centre (MRC) in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia describing how the soon-to-be launched Saltwater Network will make it possible for nonprofit stewardship groups in the Gulf of Maine to exchange resources. The project is evolving after years of informal collaborations between marine resource groups like the MRC, the Cobscook Bay Resource Center and the Stonington Fisheries Alliance in Maine.
The concept is similar to Bull’s work here along the Bay
of Fundy, where his attempts to create alliances to improve the economic and
ecological conditions in coastal communities are well known. As part of the
new network, organizers hope to share success stories here with other areas
in the Gulf and vice versa. The Henry P. Kendall Foundation based in Boston
is providing the initial funding.
For nearly a decade Bull has worked to revitalize a cooperative movement based on an age-old concept that stresses self-reliance in and among the Bay of Fundy’s fishing communities. Referred to as community-based management, the idea is a departure from a solely government-controlled fishery to one that is democratic and locally based. At the same time, it stresses ecological sustainability of individual species, which is used as a guideline in developing fishing management plans.
With years of experience as a community organizer, Bull’s approach has been compared to that of the 1960s Chicago activist, Saul Alinsky’s, albeit, with a far softer edge. An adept communicator, his manner is contemplative and optimistic - much needed qualities in the often polarized world of fisheries management. His most valuable asset, say those who know him, is his ability to build bridges between the region’s diverse cultures.
“There are people who have certain gifts of bringing people together,” says Dr. Anthony Charles, a fisheries management expert at St. Mary’s University in Halifax and a Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation. “Arthur instinctively knows the right time to intervene or to change direction. You can be like that and just be a technician, but the aspect that makes it work is that he really cares about all of these people and that comes through.”
For years, Bull worked in Ontario setting up adult literacy centers in low income and rural areas. In 1991, he and his wife, Ruth, a painter, bought a house along a narrow peninsula called Digby Neck in southwest Nova Scotia. They have lived there ever since. Bull continued his work as an adult education specialist with the local community development association, bought a small boat and began hand-line fishing on the side.
On the waterfront, he says, “There was a real fear that individual transferable quotas [ITQs] were going to be brought into the inshore fishery and if that happened, small boat hook and line fishermen would disappear.”
ITQs allot part of an overall quota to individual fishermen. Because the allotments are not enough to sustain each fisherman, wealthier fishermen can buy up quotas from others, thus creating concerns about the privatization of the fisheries into just a few hands. Collapsing ground fish stocks, cutbacks to enforcement by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and a large increase in lobster licensing fees, further contributed to a growing unrest. In response, Bull and local fishermen revived the local fishing group, renaming it the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association. He was drafted as the group’s president and spokesman.
Tensions began to boil over in February of 1996 when inshore fishermen occupied a DFO office in Barrington Passage near Yarmouth. The protests came to a head the next week when 3,000 fishermen mostly from the Fundy region and their families marched down the streets of Halifax. By early March, fishermen had occupied ten DFO offices around the province, refusing to leave until their grievances were addressed. Eventually DFO agreed to allocate a specific quota of ground fish in the Fundy area for hook-and-line fishermen and also provided for the creation of a local board to manage the quota. The result was the Fundy Fixed Gear Council, formed through an alliance of three fishing groups, including the Bay of Fundy association. As its coordinator, Bull helped devise the council’s management plan, whereby local fishermen monitor catches, allocate quotas and invoke sanctions on other fishermen if necessary. The council serves as an educational outreach and research vehicle for the inshore fishery.
In 1997, the council together with the Western Valley Development Authority initiated the Marine Resource Centre. Bull and others like Martin Kaye, the centre’s manager, began building a network of fishers, government and academic groups interested in developing ecological and sustainable marine industries. It became known as a safe haven and forum for fishermen, both native and non-native, who formed a working group to solve conflicting issues over the summer lobster fishery in St. Mary’s Bay along Digby Neck.
Then came the Marshall Decision. On September 17, 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the native fishing rights of Donald Marshall, a Mi’kmaq from Nova Scotia who had been charged with fishing eels out of season, fishing without a license and fishing with an illegal net. Marshall argued that treaties from the 1760s gave him the right to catch fish for sale and excused him from current fisheries regulations. In siding with Marshall, the Court decided that federal regulations infringed on his right to trade for sustenance.
The decision caused chaos as parties on all sides of the debate interpreted the ruling differently. Some native bands in the Maritime provinces that were affected by the decision began fishing out of season saying the ruling gave them full unregulated fishing rights. Their actions infuriated non-native fishermen who demanded the government put a ban on the catch. Some responded by vandalizing native traps, which led to retaliation and attacks on non-native fishermen.
In Yarmouth, a flotilla of fishing boats threatened to
enter St. Mary’s Bay and confiscate native traps, while hundreds of
supporters stood on the wharf cheering them on. They never took sail.
Frank Meuse, who was chief of the Bear River band, says given the level of acrimony, he felt uneasy about attending a meeting with non-native fishermen.
Nevertheless, he adds, “I went there for one purpose and one purpose only: to find a little truth. I came with the spirit of my ancestors and wanted to speak on their behalf. I was hoping others in that room could speak on their ancestors’ behalf.”
Meuse brought along an eagle feather to the meeting, which took place in a hotel room in Yarmouth. “The feather is a symbol of the bird that can fly the highest and take our messages to the Creator the quickest,” he explains. “When you receive the feather it’s a sign of respect. It means you’ve attained a level of humility that allows you to learn.”
Instead of negotiating a lobster agreement, the group sat for hours passing the eagle feather and exchanging stories about their grandparents and what they had meant to them. At times, the room became thick with emotion. “Our grandparents became our common denominator, and allowed us to do some traveling together,” Meuse says. “They helped us make a breakthrough.”
Bull had served as the catalyst for the meeting. “There is truth in what Arthur is saying and what he is trying to do,” Meuse says. “We both believe things need to have a balance personally, spiritually and environmentally and those components must be part of any decisions you make.”
The next day, the group met again and negotiated a lobster fishing agreement and the basis for an interim management plan.
That same year, Bull became chair of the Coastal Communities Network, which is comprised of more than 200 volunteer coastal and rural organizations. Through CCN, Bull organized a series of workshops and potluck meals called “dialogue dinners” for the Acadian, Mi’kmaq and black communities to further unite their common goals.
Anthony Charles of St. Mary’s University, is applying a Pew fellowship toward developing a community-based, ecological management model and is working closely with native and non-native fishing organizations in Nova Scotia. Bull along with fishermen and representatives from the Mi’kmaq community sit on the fellowship’s steering committee, which has recently returned from a meeting in British Columbia with native and non-native fishermen. Charles says his hope is to “have people look more closely at these efforts and get the federal government interested in supporting community-based management initiatives.”
Bull too, remains hopeful. But for now, he says, he has scaled back on his frenzied schedule of recent years to devote more time to his personal life and creative work. The loss of his teenage son, Alex, last June, who died following a car accident, has led him to “concentrate only on those projects that mean the most to me.”
He adds, “I did what a lot of people do who are involved in community workthey just get overextended. Sometimes it’s better to be working day and night and sometimes it’s better just to step back.”
The past decade has been an “extraordinary time,” in the history of the fisheries, Bull says, but as for his role in strengthening community bonds, he remains self-effacing. “It’s never been my vision,” he says. “It’s the fishermen and their families that got me involved. I’m just someone who lives on the Bay of Fundy and knows the demands that this place puts on us. All I know is, if we take care of this place, it will take care of us.”
The Times will update news about the Saltwater Network
following its launch sometime this spring.