Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard is not entirely happy with an agreement reached with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the Indigenous lobster fishery off P.E.I., but she is optimistic the groundwork has been laid for a good relationship into the future.
"I think that DFO showed some leadership here by working with us to come to a solution," Benard told Island Morning Friday.
Lennox Island launched a moderate-livelihood fishery on May 7 without authorization from DFO under its own management plan, which it sees as its treaty-protected right for the Mi'kmaw. On Thursday, in separate releases, Lennox Island and DFO announced an interim understanding on the fishery had been reached.
The fishery will take place during existing commercial seasons and under similar conditions. DFO said the Indigenous fishery does not represent new fishing effort in the area.
"We are prepared to defend our rights and practice our rights," said Bernard.
"But all the way along I've been praying for a way that would help our people to get out there, do their work and be able to come home safely. I think that that's what we found."
Some Indigenous traps will move to South Shore
Two years ago an Indigenous fishery in Nova Scotia led to confrontation and violence, including the burning of a lobster pound.
Lennox Island had wanted to put 1,000 traps in the water in LFA24, off P.E.I.'s North Shore, where the Lennox Island community is located. The agreement is for 300 traps in LFA24, and 700 in LFA 25, in the Northumberland Strait between North Cape and Victoria, during the fall fishing season.
Bernard described it as a compromise, but said fishing off the Island's South Shore is also an opportunity.
While an understanding has been reached on how this year's fishery will proceed, Bernard emphasized that nothing had been signed.
"We have not signed any deal," she said.
"There's no deals. No one's looking for a deal, we never were looking for a deal. We're looking for the support to be able to do our treaty-protected fishery under our management plan."
Bernard said she could have pressed the issue of more traps off the North Shore, but she said she felt it was better to accept an agreement that will help keep Indigenous people and their fishing gear safe.