Nfld. & Labrador

Outrage in Newfoundland as Indigenous groups get cut of Arctic surf clam fishery

The decision to cleave off a quarter of the Arctic surf clam fishery and give it to a new Indigenous consortium has blindsided those on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula.

Grand Bank Mayor said decision shows Dominic LeBlanc places little value in rural Newfoundland jobs

Workers in the Clearwater fish plant in Grand Bank package arctic surf clam for sale in Asian markets. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc's decision to cleave off 25 per cent of the lucrative Arctic surf clam fishery and give it to a newly formed consortium of Indigenous groups has blindsided those who have depended on the industry on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula for decades.

"This is an unprecedented move," Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews told CBC Radio's The Broadcast. "To come in and expropriate 25 per cent of a quota that we've had for the last 27 years."

Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews says a 25 per cut in Clearwater's arctic surf clam quota will be detrimental to the year-round industry there. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

In what the federal government calls a step toward reconciliation, a quarter of the quota is being moved from Grand Bank – where Clearwater Seafoods has a monopoly on Arctic surf clams – and is being given to the new Five Nations Premium Clam Co., which is comprised of First Nations from the five easternmost provinces.

The new group will partner with Premium Seafoods of Arichat, Nova Scotia to harvest, process and market the catch. The CEO of Premium Seafoods is Edgar Samson, whose brother is Nova Scotian Liberal MP Darrell Samson.

Devastating blow to Grand Bank

Matthews said the processing plant in Grand Bank employs about 150 full-time positions, year round. As well, there are three technologically advanced ships, each employing about 60 people. One of the vessels was bought last year for $70 million.

Arctic surf clams are harvested off the east coast of Canada and primarily sold to Asian markets for use in sushi. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Matthew said LeBlanc's decision makes it clear his department doesn't care about a sustainable, full-time fishery in Newfoundland.

"This isn't creating one new job at all. All it's doing is taking full time jobs from Grand Bank and making them part time, and putting other part time jobs in Nova Scotia," he said.

"If that's the minister's answer to reconciliation then I don't see much hope for the reconciliation process."

N.L. fisheries minister responds

Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne is also furious with the decision of his federal counterpart.

Byrne said LeBlanc should have done proper consultation and acted in step with precedent by offering to buy part of the quota from a willing seller, instead of "confiscating" it from Clearwater's thriving, modern operation in Grand Bank.

"There is absolutely no way shape or form that this will be a 12 month-a-year operation in Grand Bank," he said. "So we've taken a 21st century model plant and moved it back to the 19th century."

The fish plant in Grand Bank is Clearwater Seafoods main facility for processing Arctic surf clam. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Byrne said it's also unacceptable that DFO is being so mum on what Indigenous groups make up the Five Nations Premium Clam Co., saying even senior DFO officials he's talked with in Ottawa and Newfoundland and Labrador are in the dark about that fact.

CBC has asked DFO to identify the Indigenous groups involved, but did not receive that information and was told to contact Chief Aaron Sock of the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, who is the spokesman for the Five Nations Premium Clam Co.

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Sock said the consortium includes two Innu communities from Quebec and Labrador, and three Mi'kmaq bands from the Maritime provinces.

N.L. Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne questions why other industries such as telecommunications can't be the focus of Indigenous reconciliation efforts instead of the fishery. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

While he supports the principles behind reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous people, Byrne questions why Ottawa doesn't consider other federally-regulated industries besides the fishery when it comes to providing opportunities for Indigenous groups.

"Phone up the national broadcasters, phone up those who are involved in the cell phone industry, phone up those who are involved in the banking industry and tll them 'Oh by the way when you go and seek a new licence, you better have an Indigenous partner or you're not going to be eligible for your licence,'" he said.

"I wonder what the reaction would be then."

With files from CBC Radio's The Broadcast