No incidents, but tension simmering as Lennox Island launches treaty fishery

·3 min read
No incidents, but tension simmering as Lennox Island launches treaty fishery

The first lobsters caught under the treaty fishery on P.E.I. came ashore on Lennox Island Monday morning without incident — but with some simmering tension.

The fishery is not authorized by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans after negotiations to reach an agreement were unsuccessful. Without an agreement, DFO calls this an "unauthorized" fishery, which means it could be subject to enforcement, including trap seizures or fines.

The band says none of the traps set on Saturday have been seized or disturbed by fisheries officers.

"Everything went smooth and no trouble and it was a great day," said Kyle Sark, captain of the lobster boat Way Point.

The treaty fishers were able to set about 240 traps on Saturday, but plan to set 1,000 in what they say represents the "moderate livelihood" to which they are entitled.

They said they have had trouble launching boats, because local boat-moving companies say non-Indigenous fishermen have threatened to boycott them.

And with no understanding with DFO in place, it is raising tensions in the fishing community.

"Good for them but not everyone's going to like it or appreciate it," said Janet Banks, one of about 30 Lennox Island fishers with a commercial licence.

Good for them but not everyone's going to like it or appreciate it. — Lennox Island commercial fisher Janet Banks

"Usually the licenses cost, are $1.2 million to purchase ... Other people are going to have a hard time with it because they're not paying nothing for them."

Cecil Banks, who fishes with Janet Banks, said DFO should buy out non-Indigenous licences and allow the band to expand its existing commercial fleet.

At a wharf a few kilometres away, none of the non-Indigenous fishermen CBC News spoke with would agree to a taped interview.

But the crews on three boats said fishing without a licence has the potential to damage lobster stocks, and if DFO does not take action, some commercial fishermen might choose to do so, which is what happened last year in Nova Scotia.

DFO patrolling area

In an interview Monday with CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin, Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard said she hopes commercial fishers speak with her first before taking any action.

She said it was good to see DFO patrolling the area on Saturday.

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

'We want them out there doing their patrols."

But she also wants DFO to accept the band's proposal for the treaty fishery.

"Change, good or bad, is always hard. I think this is a good change. I think it's progress, it's moving forward."

Fishermen's association urges peace

In an email statement to CBC News, the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association said while the safety of all lobster harvesters on the water and wharf is a primary goal, it also expects "any enforcement issues related to the fishery are administered in an appropriate, fair and consistent manner" by DFO.

Kirk Pennell
Kirk Pennell

"There remains many differing opinions and unresolved issues around the Lennox Island Treaty Based fishery, as according to DFO this is an unauthorized fishery," the statement reads.

"The PEIFA strongly advocates for peace on the water leaving any enforcement related to this unauthorized fishery to DFO and other authorities. The PEIFA remains committed to working with our First Nations and governments in seeking viable long term solutions that are equitable to all harvesters and protect our valuable ocean resources."

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