Fisheries minister to Clearwater: You don't own surf clam quota

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is standing by his controversial decision to award a surf clam quota to an unknown coalition of First Nations.

Dominic LeBlanc rejects calls for a review, dismisses claims from Clearwater

'A company doesn't own in perpetuity a quota; Canadians do,' LeBlanc told reporters Wednesday. (Stephanie Clattenburg/CBC)

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is standing by his controversial decision to award a surf clam quota worth millions of dollars to an unknown coalition of First Nations that has partnered with Premium Seafoods in Arichat, N.S.

The competition for 8,924 tonnes of surf clam quota exclusively set aside for an Indigenous entity prompted a slew of bids from First Nations communities throughout Atlantic Canada.

The winning entrant was the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick.

Speaking to reporters in Dartmouth Wednesday, LeBlanc rejected calls for a review, dismissed claims from Clearwater Seafoods that the quota award is an expropriation of its property and deflected questions about the transparency of the process.

"Seven [proposals] were reviewed in detail. If one was selected I'm not surprised the other six would somehow show some signs of displeasure," LeBlanc said.

'Loaded language'

The surf clam quota was taken from Halifax-based Clearwater Seafoods, which has held a monopoly for decades. The award is part of the federal government's effort at reconciliation with First Nations.

Clearwater had partnered with all 13 Nova Scotia First Nations in its bid. 

A company doesn't own in perpetuity a quota; Canadians do.- Dominic LeBlanc, Fisheries Minister

After losing out, the company threatened to sue over what it called an expropriation.

"A company doesn't own in perpetuity a quota; Canadians do," LeBlanc said. "The word expropriation is loaded language … designed to make a point, but it's not entirely accurate. You can't be expropriated from a property you don't own."

He shrugged off the threatened court challenge.

"I'm not surprised or worried about that," he said.

Still don't know who is in

When LeBlanc announced the winner he said it included Indigenous representation from all four Atlantic provinces and Quebec.

That was news to Nova Scotia chiefs who maintain they were not, and are still not, part of the Five Nations Clam Corporation led by Elsipogtog.

The band issued a news release this week claiming it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Indigenous communities from Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We will be releasing the names of the partners over the coming days," Chief Arren Sock said in a news release.

Chief Terrance Paul in his office in Membertou. (CBC)

Kelsea MacNeil, a spokesperson for Membertou Chief Terry Paul, said none of Nova Scotia's 13 bands are part of the Elsipogtog initiative and they remain united in demanding a review.

"Where is the transparency?" she said.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has also demanded a review. LeBlanc refused Wednesday. 

LeBlanc sidesteps

LeBlanc would not address which First Nations are part of the Five Nations Clam Corporation or when the deal was put together.

He said Elsipogtog — like a number of entrants — reserved spots in their proposal for proponents that might have been in other proposals.

"I'm satisfied the condition that this particular proponent put forward can and will be met," he 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."

The surf clam quota was taken from Halifax-based Clearwater Seafoods, which has held a monopoly for decades. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

President of Premium Seafoods, Edgar Samson, issued his own news release Tuesday, saying Elsipogtog and the four other First Nations have the skills and resources to develop the surf clam fishery in a responsible and sustainable manner.

"The seafood in our oceans is a Canadian resource to be shared amongst as many Canadians as possible," Samson said in a news release.

"There is considerable work to be done in order to further develop this fishery. From the outset, every group responding to the department's call for submissions knew that there would only be one winner. The decision has been made so we urge dissenters to let us get the job done."

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said the winning entrant was the Elsipogtog First Nation in LeBlanc's Beauséjour riding. The band used to be in the Beauséjour riding.
    Mar 08, 2018 9:59 AM AT

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

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.

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