Names of Indigenous groups who won coveted Arctic surf clam quota announced

The Indigenous groups sharing in 8,924 tonnes of Arctic surf clam quota were identified late Thursday, ending the cloud of mystery that has surrounded the award since it was announced in February by Canada's Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

5 winners come from Atlantic Canada and Quebec, which has angered Nova Scotia Indigenous group

Clearwater Seafoods, which had the monopoly on the Arctic surf clam fishery, threatened to sue Ottawa over the decision. (Clearwater Seafoods)

The Indigenous groups sharing in 8,924 tonnes of Arctic surf clam quota were identified late Thursday, ending the cloud of mystery that has surrounded the award since it was announced last month.

When Five Nations Clam Company beat out six other bidders for the new licence, federal Fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc said the consortium led by Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick included Indigenous representation from all four Atlantic provinces and Quebec. No other groups were identified, however.​

On Thursday, Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock issued a statement identifying its partners for the first time. They are:

  • Potlotek First Nation in Nova Scotia.
  • Abegweit First Nation in Prince Edward Island.
  • Innu First Nation of Nutashkuan in Quebec.
  • Southern Inuit of NunatuKavut, through its commercial-fisheries entity NDC Fisheries Limited, in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We believe that this is a tremendous opportunity for these Indigenous communities to further increase their involvement in the fishery and we pledge our full commitment and co-operation to our partners in working toward this goal," Sock said in the statement.

Five Nations Clam Company is working with industry partner Premium Seafoods of Arichat in Cape Breton to catch the quota, which was taken away from longtime monopoly licence holder Clearwater Seafoods.

The Halifax-based regional seafood giant had teamed up with Nova Scotia's 13 Mi'kmaq bands on their bid.

Controversy over decision

Leblanc announced in September that the federal government was carving out 25 per cent of the total allowable catch of surf clam and would award a licence to a First Nations enterprise and its industry partner. The minister called it a step toward reconciliation.

But after losing to Elsipogtog last month, Clearwater threatened to sue Ottawa, claiming its property had been expropriated.

Nova Scotia's 13 Mi'kmaq chiefs also condemned the award, saying the process lacked transparency and did not include any Mi'kmaq representation from Nova Scotia.

The day before Elsipogtog finally identified its partners, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia's chiefs maintained that all 13 bands remained united in demanding the decision be halted.

Chief Terry Paul, of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs, said he was surprised to learn Potlotek — an Indigenous community at Chapel Island, Cape Breton — was included in the winning bid.

Chief Terry Paul of the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi'kmaq Chiefs said the group is looking for more information on how DFO analyzed the applications. (George Mortimer/CBC)

"From what we have learned, an agreement has not been finalized with Potlotek, and the Five Nation Clam Corporation do not have confirmed partnerships completed," he said in a written statement to CBC News.

"As we seek more information, we are not satisfied with the decision or the process as a whole."

Paul said the chiefs are looking for more information on DFO's review of the applications and its agreement with the winning bidder.

Speaking in the Halifax area earlier this week, LeBlanc defended the Arctic surf clam award by dismissing Clearwater's claims and rejecting calls for a review of the decision.

He declined to clarify when or how the consortium of Indigenous groups came together.

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.