SYDNEY - Disputes among fishermen aren’t uncommon, but the reluctance to report damaged lobster gear and other property crimes to police is resulting in unwanted consequences on Cape Breton waters.
Published reports have stated Philip Boudreau was cutting a lobster fisherman’s trap lines in the early morning on June 1 when he was allegedly shot and run over by a fishing boat in Petit de Grat harbour. His body hasn’t been found.
Three men have been charged with second-degree murder. A fourth person, the wife of one of the fishermen charged, was arrested last week and charged with being an accessory after the fact.
None of the alleged actions of those accused in Boudreau’s death have been proven in court.
Gilbert Boucher, president of the Richmond County Inshore Fishermen’s Association, said the death of Boudreau was the result of tensions finally boiling to the surface.
It was widely known in the community for years that Boudreau was a lobster poacher but few complaints were ever made against him from fishermen in lobster fishing area 29, he said.
“This association has put more conservation measures in place than any other (lobster fishing area) in Nova Scotia and we like to protect our fishery, but when you have someone going around doing what (Boudreau) was doing, it was a matter of time before something happened,” said Boucher, who is the Richmond County councillor for District 7.
However, he said that wouldn’t excuse what is alleged as the actions of the accused in the case.
There were alternatives including banding together with other fishermen to take their common complaint to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the RCMP, Boucher said.
The problem is no one wants to co-operate with police and fisheries enforcement officials because it means speaking on the record, he added.
“When (fisheries enforcement) does act on (cases of poaching) the local fishermen are scared of the guy and they don’t want to back up what’s going on, (then) what can the fisheries officer do?”
The unspoken code of silence among fishermen also extends to other disputes that arise on the water.
Confrontations over fishing territory within the lobster fishing area aren’t as common as they once were, DFO senior fisheries officer Norman Fougere said from St. Peter’s.
“At one time, people had their own little areas but with the newer fishermen coming in and the cost of the licence, that’s no longer the case,” he said.
“If traps are cut, it becomes an RCMP issue. We’re certainly willing to assist, or whatever the case may be, but as far as traps being cut that’s a police issue.”
RCMP Sgt. Mark MacPherson, based out of the St. Peter’s detachment, said there is nothing to indicate there was a fight over lobster fishing territory in Petit de Grat harbour.
“There were some comments made … the odd time we’d hear people complaining about Philip, or saying Philip did something, but we’ve only had a handful of complaints in the last few years regarding anything like that,” he said.
“People are upset that nothing was done with Philip over the years … however, really, there are very few complaints on our system from anybody.
“Until someone is willing to put their name behind it and say, ‘on such and such a date I believe he did this, this and this,’ it’s not fair to just blame him if something disappears or is damaged.”
Boucher is quick to jump to the defence of Fisheries and Oceans Canada enforcement officials, who are dealing with federal government budget cutbacks that have resulted in fewer staff on the water.
“They’re spread very thin, these guys. There aren’t many of them around … but the association has always gotten along very well with the enforcement people.”