LeBlanc stands firm amid growing outcry over Arctic surf clam quota reallocation

UPDATE: Five Nation Clam partners announced:

 Members of the Five Nation Clam Company have been announced. They include the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, Abegweit First Nation in Prince Edward Island, Innu First Nation of Nutashkuan in Quebec, the Potlotek First Nation in Nova Scotia and from Newfoundland and Labrador the Southern Inuit of Nunatukavut through its commercial fisheries unit NDC Fisheries Limited.

The Potlotek First Nation are located on Chapel Island on the Bras d’Or Lakes, which is about 40 miles from Arichat, which is where industry partner Premium Seafoods is located.

Canada’s Fisheries Minister Dominique LeBlanc has not changed his mind regarding the awarding of an Arctic surf clam quota recently allocated to the Five Nations Clam Company.The quota, for 8,924 metric tons (MT) of Arctic surf clams, was carved off those held by Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada-based Clearwater Seafoods for 30 years. In response, Clearwater has launched a lawsuit, calling the quota award “expropriation.”

At a press conference in Halifax on Wednesday, 7 AMrch, LeBlanc dispute Clearwater’s characterization of the situation, saying the quota belongs to Canadians 

“You can’t be expropriated from a property you don’t own,” he said.

LeBlanc said he is one of a handful of people who have read all proposals and know their contents. Of the nine proposals for the clam quota, two failed to meet all the basic criteria and were rejected, he said, while he other seven were assessed and the quota was fairly awarded to the Five Nations.

"I'm satisfied the condition that this particular proponent put forward can and will be met,” LeBlanc said. “And of course if they can't meet that condition, I will not issue the formal legal document which would give them the licence and quota."

Representatives from the losing proposals have not been happy and are questioning the selection process. Beyond losing the chance to work the lucrative fishery, the other groups are annoyed that the winning proposal, while based on representation from First Nations in five provinces (Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador), may not have had firm commitments from nations in all provinces and instead had “reserved spots” for others to join in once the license was awarded. 

Speaking on behalf of the Clearwater partnership, which included 13 Nova Scotia First Nations, Chief Terry Paul of Membertou, told SeafoodSource  the Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq are calling for a revision of DFO's selection process and the release of DFO's analysis process of the applications and transparency about which groups are associated with Five Nation Clam Co. 

“We hope to better understand what the process was, and what made one group successful over another,” he said. “With a lack of access to information surrounding the applications and their contents, it's difficult to understand why a seemingly incomplete proposal could be successful.”

Chief Paul dismissed criticism his group’s decision to partner with Clearwater, the long-time license-holder, may have hindered the public optics of its proposal.

“We are standing united as 13 communities with our chosen partner, Clearwater,” he said. “In preparing to put forth our bid, we explored our options and concluded that Clearwater was the only option to see immediate and meaningful benefits for our communities.”

The quota stakes are substantial. Chief Paul said the quota would have been worth CAD 315 million (USD 244.4 million, EUR 197.6 million) to Mi’kmaq economies in Nova Scotia.

“Our proposal had the ability to impact 22,000 Mi'kmaq and provide quality employment opportunities,” he said.

While Paul and his fellow Nova Scotia chiefs are disappointed, they want it known they aren’t against the winning nations. 

“In calling for the revision, we are not opposing the successful candidates or our neighboring communities,” he said. “We are simply asking for access to information and wanting to ensure that the process was rooted in fairness and will have the ability to see benefits to indigenous communities realized.”


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