Prince Edward Island’s Lennox Island First Nation to launch treaty lobster fishery without agreement with DFO

The Lennox Island First Nation has announced that it will launch a treaty lobster fishery next week off the north coast of Prince Edward Island, with or without federal government support.

The First Nation has a clear treaty right to fish lobster for a living without federal approval — a right upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1999 Marshall decision.

The community had said in 2021 that they wanted to start such a fishery, but chose to first negotiate with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on specific conditions that would be put in place.

Chief Darlene Bernard told CBC News on Thursday that the community had waited long enough, so Lennox Island had created its own management plan. He understands:

  • A maximum of 1,000 traps set up for the year.
  • A period that falls during the commercial season, using the wharf and community infrastructure.
  • Compliance with DFO rules regarding trap size and conservation measures.

Bernard said the community sent the plan to DFO last week, but did not hear back.

Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard says the community has no intention of waiting any longer to reach an agreement with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. He will launch a treaty fishery for lobster on May 7. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

The First Nation intends to launch the treaty fishery on Saturday, May 7, weather permitting.

About 25 people from Lennox Island are already fishing lobster in the commercial fishery, which is expected to open early the week of May 2, as long as weather and ocean conditions are favourable.

Bernard told CBC News that if there is any violence on the water targeting Lennox Island treaty fishers, the band will hold DFO responsible.

She added that representatives from Lennox Island met with the PEI Fishermen’s Association earlier this week to share details of the plan.

In this September 2021 photo, fishermen from Sipekne’katik, the second largest Mi’kmaq band in Nova Scotia, handle lobster traps on a wharf. (Robert Short/CBC)

PEIFA ‘strongly opposes’ conflict of any kind

On Thursday afternoon, the provincial fishermen’s association issued a written statement, calling it “unfortunate” that discussions between the federal government, non-Indigenous fishermen’s associations and First Nations have not taken place to further discuss the requirements.

“We now have a situation where stakeholder groups disagree on how fisheries access can be achieved in a controlled and regulated manner,” the statement said.

“PEIFA does not support the granting of additional fishing access and expects the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to fully enforce existing regulations. The association strongly opposes disputes over any type and is frustrated that this situation has evolved when viable solutions for all stakeholders could have been reached.”

CBC News reached out to DFO and the provincial fisheries department for comment, but had not heard back by mid-afternoon Thursday.