Wisconsin Spearfishing Protesters Hurl Rocks
PHELPS, Wis. (AP) _ Violence from opponents of expanded fishing rights for Indians will not be allowed, an official warned Sunday, following seven arrests as crowds gathered to throw rocks and taunt spearfishers.
″We won’t tolerate any type of physical abuse like rock throwing,″ Department of Natural Resources spokesman John Nelson said. ″We have been tolerating the verbal stuff because people have a right to their opinion, but that does not extend to the area of physical violence.″
Police in riot gear have patrolled boat landings on the northern lakes where Chippewa Indians are spearfishing under the guarantee of 19th century treaties. Through Saturday, 67 demonstrators had been arrested since the tribal fishing season began April 23.
The seven arrested Saturday night included four accused of rock-throwing at North Twin Lake, where a crowd estimated at 1,000 people gathered in light snow. No injuries were reported.
Nelson said protesters have thrown rocks in isolated incidents in the past but never to the degree that occurred Saturday night.
Crowds of more than 100 people have gathered at many lakes at night when Chippewa fishermen use lights and multipronged spears to take walleyed pike and other fish from northern Wisconsin lakes.
It is the fifth year that Wisconsin’s six Chippewa bands have spearfished since a federal court ruled the tribe retained the right to gather food off reservation under treaties that ceded much of northern Wisconsin to the federal government.
Treaty rights opponents object to rules that allow tribal fishermen different fishing methods and seasons than non-Indian sportsmen. The critics particularly oppose the spears, which are more efficient than the traditional rod and reel.
In Boulder Junction on Saturday, Gov. Tommy G. Thompson told business leaders and treaty rights opponents he’ll do everything possible ″to reduce the suffering and turmoil″ over Indian spearfishing.
″I know every one of you are completely upset,″ Thompson said. ″You’re very emotional so am I and I’m very sorry about the situation.″
The governor unveiled a multimillion-dollar plan to boost northern Wisconsin tourism and address business concerns about the economic effects of spearfishing, including efforts to stock more pike in northern lakes and to press for a compromise with the Chippewa.
In the disturbance at North Twin Lake, about 30 rocks showered from the crowd Saturday night as one of eight tribal boats entered the water, said George Meyer, a natural resources department administrator.
Most arrests were for disorderly conduct, but one protester who was on the lake with a boat was arrested on charges he harassed a spearer by creating a hazardous wake, Nelson said.