After talks broke down with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard says her community could not wait any longer.
“That’s how you protect treaty rights, you get out there and you do it and you practice it,” Bernard tells APTN News.
“That’s the only way to do it.”
Lennox Island launched the fishery on the weekend.
Located off the northwestern coast of P.E.I., harvesters took to the waters to earn a moderate livelihood under the community’s management plan.
Bernard says the community did it this way because the federal government hasn’t respected Mi’kmaw treaty rights.
“They have a responsibility to create space within the fishery for the treaty fishery,” she says. “For First Nations to become involved in the commercial fishery and they failed to do that.”
Following the launch, there was a ceremony at the wharf where Elder Methilda Knockwood-Snache could barely contain her pride.
“When I see the boat go out and I felt like screaming,” she says. “I just felt like cheering and be happy they are able to do that and are proud to do it.”
Lennox Island is the second community to launch its own self-regulated treaty-protected fishery.
Sipkne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia launched its treaty fishery in 2020.
It was met with violence from non-Indigenous fishers who said the fishery was “illegal.”
But it was a different scene at the Lennox Island wharf.
A few RCMP vehicles stopped by, but otherwise, it was a regular day as Mi’kmaw commercial fishers also prepare to haul in crab.
Another absence of note – DFO officials.
“There were some federal fisheries officers sitting out there with some scopes, just watching, other than that, it went off without a hitch,” says Blake Bernard, a Lennox Island guardian who monitors the fishery.
The management plan includes a total of 1,000 traps (100 per person) for the commercials season.
Harvesters will sell their catch to the band – who in turn will use its licence to sell to other buyers.
According to DFO, “Canada is focused on solutions that protect Indigenous rights, all those who work in Canada’s fishing industry to ensure everyone has an opportunity to benefit from fishing.”
Lennox Island says at this point, no one‘s traps had been seized.