Conflict arises as fishing dispute nears end

Conflict arises as fishing dispute nears end
The ATCO fish plant on the shores of Lake Athabasca has been a site of dispute between the Delta Native Fishermen’s Association and ATCO Electric for two years.

What looked like a final resolution to disputes between the Delta Native Fishermen’s Association (DNFA) and ATCO Electric in Fort Chipewyan may be stalling once more over ATCO’s request that the fishermen provide tax returns and other financial records as part of their claims.

The two parties have been involved in a dispute over a variety of matters related to the dismantling and rebuilding of the Fort Chip fish plant for the past two years, which saw contaminated soil and a slew of technical issues result in the loss of the 2010 fishing season.

At a meeting on May 3, ATCO agreed to compensate claims from fishermen who endured a loss of income in 2010. They also agreed to fix several outstanding problems at the plant, as well as have an Alberta Health Services inspector fly in to give the final permit for processing raw fish – concerns the DNFA thought would further stall the plant’s opening.

Most thought that was the end.

But turning over the keys had a rocky start when there were, once again, delays.

“If I had not spent considerable time on the phone and emails to Fish & Wildlife and the health inspector, the permits would not have been issued for the June 10, 4:30 p.m. opening that we were able to arrange,” DNFA member Maxine Bourke wrote in a letter to the president of ATCO on behalf of the association, dated July 12.

“Of course by that date, the water was considerably warmer than liked for a viable fishing season,” she said. “We had already lost a good two-and-a-half weeks of the season and with the winds this year, we again had a very limited fishing season and for some, no season at all.”

Now the DNFA is arguing that ATCO has no right to request tax returns from 2007-2010, nor records of fishing-related expenses or copies of fishing licenses.

“Not everyone may file their tax returns and may or may not claim their fishing income and expenses,” said Bourke. “This is totally a personal thing and not really ATCO’s business in the claim process. If a person has submitted T4Fs or DCRs or other data showing how they arrived at their claim amount, the tax info should not be required nor asked for.”

Jeff Barbutza, the North East Regional Manager at ATCO, said that while he could not speak to individual claims, every claimant will be getting compensated.

“We are in negotiations to settle that and have people working on it on a claim-by-claim basis,” he said. “The intention is to get it resolved as quickly as possible.”

Barbutza refused to comment on issues surrounding specific claimants, but said resolution was “just a matter of having the right information.”

He said he hoped it would be resolved in the next two weeks.

But Bourke is worried that ATCO is trying to detract from the amounts claimed by fishermen.

“The claims the fishermen submitted are not negotiable,” she said. “We each submitted what we are comfortable with as an expected income for the 2010 fishing season. These are not inflated amounts and each fisherman based their claim amount on a valid, realistic expectation to have earned in that season. We did not submit high claims in anticipation of things being negotiated to a lower amount. The amounts that these claims total are small in the big picture of the ATCO site remediation project and we cringe to see ATCO trying to undermine the submissions by the fishermen.”

Bourke estimated that fishermen in the Lake Athabasca community lost $30,000 during last year’s missed season.

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