May 16, 2022, 15:36

    Lennox Island treaty lobster fishery gets underway without government approval

    Lennox Island treaty lobster fishery gets underway without government approval

    The Lennox Island First Nation lobster treaty fishery launched Saturday.

    Treaty fishers set out following a morning ceremony at the island's harbour, a week after the P.E.I. First Nation announced it would launch a moderate living fishery without authorization from the federal government.

    The initial plan was to set 1,000 lobster traps during the first day of the fishery. But Chief Darlene Bernard said they had to lower that target because some of the fishers did not have enough time to prepare.

    "We did have some issues with trying to launch a couple of our larger boats, and it was the boat hauler [who] wasn't comfortable to launch our boats because I think there were suggestions that if he did that he wouldn't launch another non-Indigenous boat," she said.

    "I don't want to get upset over that. But you know, if there is an issue, then we'll deal with that by getting our own boat hauler and doing our own hauling of boats … We're not here to cause problems."

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

    The First Nation has a right to harvest lobster for a moderate livelihood without the government's approval as per the Supreme Court's 1999 Marshall ruling, though in a rare clarification the court did determine that Ottawa could still regulate Mi'kmaw fishers if there were justifiable concerns about conservation and there were consultations with Indigenous groups.

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

    DFO has said the fishery is unauthorized and therefore may be subject to enforcement action, which could mean trap seizures or fines.

    There were a few RCMP patrol cars stationed near the harbour during the launch.

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

    At the launch, she said there have been no issues with non-Indigenous fishers so far and that most people have been supportive. Bernard said she has also previously been in talks with the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association.

    "I explained to them, gave them all the details of the plan. And I don't think anybody sitting in the room could really say it was unreasonable," she said.

    "Certainly there's frustration … but our rights are not contingent on that, right? Our rights are here. We have the right to a treaty fishery, and we're going to exercise that right. But certainly, you know, DFO, I feel it's their role to make that space in the commercial fishery for us."

    'Symbolic gesture'

    The treaty fishery's current management plan includes:

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

    • A timeframe that falls within the commercial season, using the community's own wharf and infrastructure.

    • Respect for DFO rules with regard to trap size and conservation measures.

    Bernard said they won't fish on Wednesdays or Sundays.

    In post on the band office's Facebook page, Bernard said the treaty fishery does not meet Lennox Island's needs, but the launch was more of a "symbolic gesture" to show how long the First Nation has waited to get their rights implemented.

    Why Lennox Island First Nation launching a treaty fishery without federal approval is significant

    "It's more or less saying to DFO, 'You've had 20 years, more than two decades to deal with a treaty protected fishery, and you haven't, but we need to deal with it, because we need to have access to this resource,'" she said. 

    "It's for the betterment of our community and it's to provide livelihoods to our young people and their families. They're fisher people. They want to be involved in the industry just like other fisher people. And I think that there's space, and if there's no space then it needs to be created."

    With files from Tony Davis


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