Clearwater to lose monopoly on Arctic surf clam

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced Thursday that 25 per cent of the current quota will be given to a new company.

25 per cent of the current Arctic surf clam quota will be given to a new company

Two of Clearwater Seafoods' trawlers are shown in Shelburne, N.S., in March 2006. The company has recently lost its monopoly on Arctic surf clam. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Halifax-based Clearwater Seafoods is losing its monopoly on Canada's lucrative Arctic surf clam.

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced Thursday that DFO will give 25 per cent of the current quota to a new entrant after a request for written proposals closes in November.

Currently all three Arctic surf clam licences are held by Clearwater.

The bright red surf clam meat of the Arctic surf clam is exported to Asia, where it is used in sushi. (Clearwater Seafoods)

The government says the fourth licence holder it is seeking must be majority Canadian-owned and be an Indigenous entity based in Atlantic Canada or Quebec. The licence will be for 2018.

38,000 tonnes of Arctic surf clam

The current Grand Banks Arctic surf clam quota is about 38,000 tonnes. It includes fishing grounds off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Little known in Canada, surf clams are caught, shucked and frozen at sea on board Clearwater factory freezer trawlers. 

The company recently spent $65 million on its latest vessel.

Clearwater Seafoods operates the ship Belle Carnell, which harvests, shucks and freezes Arctic surf clams on board. (Azzo Rezori/CBC)

The bright red surf clam meat is exported to Asia, where it is used in sushi and known as hokkigai or bei gei bei.

Sales in the second quarter of 2017 were $25 million.

Competing company happy with the decision

Rival company Louisbourg Seafoods has long lobbied to have the quota opened.

The previous federal government announced it was ending the monopoly, but the Liberal government halted the move until Thursday.

In an interview with CBC News, Louisbourg Seafoods vice-president Dannie Hansen welcomed DFO's decision, even if it is bittersweet.

Louisbourg had been lobbying for between 6,000 and 8,000 tonnes of the quota for itself, with promises of more facilities and more than 100 jobs in Cape Breton.

"We've been fighting for 10 years to break the monopoly," Hansen said. "That's why we are so very happy about this decision. The monopoly will be broken. Now we hope that whoever the First Nations partner with, it won't be Clearwater." 

The company has not lined up Indigenous partners and so may not be able to take advantage of the new quota offering.

CBC News has reached out to Clearwater but has not yet received a response.

About the Author

Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.