Clearwater threatens legal action after losing Arctic surf clam monopoly

The Five Nations Clam Company has won a lucrative quota award for Eastern Canada’s Arctic surf clam fishery, according to an announcement by Canadian Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc on Thursday, 22 February. 

Five Nations is a new partnership between Premium Seafoods of Isle Madame, Cape Breton, and a coalition of five First Nations from Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

For the past 30 years, Bedford, Nova Scotia-based Clearwater Seafoods has held all three Artic surf clam licenses, allowing the company to harvest up to 38,000 metric tons (MT) of clams. LeBlanc’s announcement moves a quarter of that, 8,724 MT, to the new company. 

In September 2017, the minister announced the quota reallocation as part of a quest to create an opportunity for a First Nations-owned company, to start in 2018. First Nations-owned businesses in Atlantic Canada and Quebec had until 2 November to submit their expressions of interest in the quota allocation to the DFO.

Having received formal notice of the quota, Premium Seafoods Group President and CEO Edgar Samson said the Five Nations partners will now “sit as a group and follow our plan that we put together.”

“We entered into a partnership where we’re going to look after the harvesting, processing, and marketing. We’ve been in business for 33 years and we’ve been working on the surf clam file since 2007,” Samson said.

The partners have a deal for a vessel, which will have to be finalized and refitted, Samson said, adding that the company will begin hiring once the refit is finished. 

“We need a full 35-person crew to fish the vessel, and another 35 people on rotation, so you have 70 jobs at sea and another 50 to 60 on land,” he said.

On shore, Premium will reopen a recently closed shrimp processing line to handle the surf clams.

While Samson couldn’t give a value for the quota, in November 2017, Chief Terry Paul of the Membertou First Nations, a group that was part of a competing proposal from 13 Nova Scotian Mi’kmaq communities in partnership with Clearwater, said the surf clam license could be worth CAD 315 million (USD 249 million, EUR 203 million) over the life of the agreement. 

With the awarding of the quota to a rival applicant, Paul told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation he believed his group lost out because of its partnership with Clearwater, the existing quota holder.

Clearwater Seafoods is also unhappy at giving up a quarter of a fishery that in 2016 netted CAD 91.9 million (USD 72.7 million, EUR 59.2 million) in sales. The company issued a press release announcing legal action to address what it considers a “failure in public policy and abuse of power by the Minister.”


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