Stunning reversal in Canada as Arctic surf clam quota redistribution rescinded

In a stunning reversal, Canada’s government has canceled a quota for Arctic surf clam previously awarded to the Five Nations Clam Company in February 2018.

Ottawa’s decision was made and communicated to license holders in early July and made public on Friday, 10 August.

For the last 30 years, Clearwater Seafoods Ltd., based in Bedford, Nova Scotia, has held 100 percent of the country’s Arctic surf clam licenses. Clearwater fished 38,000 metric tons (MT) of clams in 2016, generating CAD 91.9 million (USD 70 million, EUR 61.3 million) in sales. The company has several trawlers capable of quick-steam and flash-freezing catch working in the clam fishery. 

In the fall of 2017, then-Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominique LeBlanc – who has since changed roles and become minister of intergovernmental affairs, northern affairs and internal trade –  announced that in keeping with government policy, 25 percent of the Arctic surf clam quota was being reallocated for an indigenous fishery to start in 2018. LeBlanc gave the various First Nations in Atlantic Canada and Quebec until 2 November, 2017, to submit expressions of interest to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

In February 2018, LeBlanc announced that a new company, Five Nations, which represented First Nations from all five eastern provinces, had partnered with Premium Seafoods of Isle Madame, Cape Breton, to receive a quota for 8,724 MT of clams. At the time of the award, Edgar Samson, president and CEO of Premium Seafoods Group, said his 33-year-year-old company had been working on the surf clam file since 2007.

While LeBlanc faced criticism for the decision and Clearwater threatened a lawsuit, Canada’s government said the reason for its reversal boiled down to late paperwork and missed deadlines. At the time of its proposal deadline, Five Nations only had two confirmed indigenous partners, the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick and Nutashkuan Innu in Quebec, the DFO said. Further complicating the company’s eligibility was corporate registration. Five Nations wasn’t officially registered in Nova Scotia until 13 December, 2017 and in New Brunswick until 28 February, 2018 – well past the proposal deadline.

A new process for awarding a surf clam quota will begin in late 2019 for a fishery to start in 2020.

In the meantime, there is a potential for Clearwater to continue fishing the entire surf clam quota. Christine Penny, Clearwater’s vice president of sustainability and public affairs, said the company welcomed the minister’s announcement.  

“We are ready and willing to harvest the 25 percent of the clam quota for 2018 and 2019 in order to allow the economic benefits to remain in coastal communities while the [m]inister considers next steps,” she said. “Friday’s decision will give comfort to our employees from over 52 communities in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador for 2018 and 2019. Without access to the 25 percent, adjustments in our business would have been required starting later this year.  

Penny added that Clearwater “will be seeking to understand the details around the new process announced for 2020.”

“We know that many have been advocating to avoid significant impact on our employees, in particular Rex Matthews, Mayor of Grand Bank, Newfoundland, and Churence Rogers, MP for Bonavista-Burin-Trinity.”

The Five Nations have not yet issued a public comment on the announcement. 

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