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.
A few RCMP patrol cars were parked near the harbor during the launch. DFO said fishing is not permitted and could be subject to enforcement action, which could mean trap seizures or fines.
In a statement released Saturday, DFO said it had entered into discussions with the community with the goal of reaching an “interim agreement that would see Lennox Island First Nation conduct an authorized moderate subsistence fishery during the season. established this spring”.
The Abegweit First Nation, the other native band on the island, is still in talks with DFO. Abegweit Chief Junior Gould said last week that the community would not follow Lennox Island’s ruling and would not launch a treaty fishery this year.
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 had been no problems with non-indigenous fishers so far and most people had 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’s certainly frustration…but our rights don’t depend on that, do they? Our rights are here. We have the right to a treaty fishery, and we’re going to exercise that right. .”
“Shipping seems to be going smoothly for everyone so far,” said Blake Bernard of First Nations Guardians, an environmental stewardship program in place in many Indigenous communities across Canada.
The Lennox Island program began earlier this year to monitor the treaty fishery.
“We went out there, did a few rounds just to make sure everything was okay. Looks like a Federal Fishery Officer is at…Low Point. Other than that, it seems to be fine.”
Two treaty-protected ships left port on Saturday. One was a 45 foot lobster boat operated by three people.
“It feels good, you know, to fish for our rights,” said Thunder Augustine, one of the boat’s crew. Augustine fishes commercially but is now doing subsistence fishing for the first time.
“It feels good to be back on the water for the first time [as treaty fisher]. Here to make money, and that’s about it.”
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.
She said DFO should give the community more commercial licenses. Lennox Island currently has 30 boats in its commercial fleet, with over 7,000 traps.
“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.”
Kirsten Fisher-Compton was at the dock with her son, Liam, to wish the child’s father, Noah Day, well.
Day set out alone aboard the second treaty-protected vessel: a small dory.
Fisher-Compton said her husband just wanted to be part of the fishery and the little boat was all he had to work with.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking to see him go out in such a small boat, but hopefully he has a good season and everything goes well,” she said.
“I feel proud. It’s kind of nice to see them taking action and taking their rights back.”