Treaty lobster fishery on Lennox Island begins without government approval

The Lennox Island First Nation lobster fishery was launched on Saturday.

Treaty fishers leave following a morning ceremony at the island’s harbour, a week after the Prince Edward Island First Nation announced it would launch a moderate live fishery without the permission of the federal government.

The original plan was to install 1,000 lobster traps on the first day of fishing. But chef Darlene Bernard said they had to lower that target because some anglers didn’t have enough time to prepare.

“We had a few issues trying to launch a couple of our bigger boats, and that was the boat carrier [who] wasn’t comfortable launching our boats because I think there were suggestions that if he did that he wouldn’t be launching another non-native boat,” she said.

“I don’t want to get upset about it. But you know, if there’s a problem, we’ll take care of it by getting our own boat transporter and doing our own boat transport… We’re not here to cause problems.”

The decision to launch the fishery without government permission follows two years of negotiations between Lennox Island and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that broke down last week.

The First Nation has the right to fish lobster for a living without government approval in accordance with the Supreme Court’s 1999 Marshall decision, although in a rare clarification, the court determined that Ottawa could still regulate the Mi’kmaq fishers if there were justifiable conservation concerns and there were consultations with aboriginal groups.

Darlene Bernard, Chief of Lennox Island. (Tony Davis/CBC)

DFO said fishing is not permitted and therefore may be subject to enforcement action, which could mean trap seizures or fines.

There were a few RCMP patrol cars parked near the harbor during the launch.

Bernard previously told CBC News that if there was violence in the water aimed at treaty fishers, the band would hold DFO responsible.

At the launch, she said there have been no problems with non-indigenous fishers so far and most people have been supportive. Bernard said she had also previously been in talks with the PEI Fishermen’s Association.

“I explained to them, I gave them all the details of the plan. And I don’t think anyone sitting in the room could really say that was unreasonable,” she said.

“There is certainly frustration…but our rights don’t depend on that, do they? Our rights are here. We have a right to a treaty fishery, and we will exercise that right. I think it’s their role to make this place for us in the commercial fishery. »

“Symbolic gesture”

The current treaty fishery management plan includes:

  • A maximum of 1,000 traps set for the year, 100 or less per individual.

  • 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 they wouldn’t fish on Wednesdays or Sundays.

In a post on the band office’s Facebook page, Bernard said the treaty fishery did not meet the needs of Lennox Island, but that the launch was more of a “symbolic gesture” to show how many time the First Nation waited to enforce its rights.

“It’s more or less saying to DFO, ‘You’ve had 20 years, over two decades to deal with a treaty-protected fishery, and you haven’t, but we have to deal with it, because that we need to have access to this resource,” she said.

“It’s for the good of our community and it’s to provide livelihoods for our young people and their families. They’re fishermen. They want to be involved in the industry, just like other fishermen. And I think there’s room, and if there’s no space then you have to create it.”