Labrador's NunatuKavut part of second Indigenous-led bid from N.L. for arctic surf clam

The new pan-Atlantic bid for the lucrative fishery involves Indigenous groups from Labrador, New Brunswick and Quebec, and industry partner Ocean Choice International.

Provincial and federal fisheries ministers are meeting to discuss surf clam quota

Clearwater had traditionally held all of the arctic surf clam quota. DFO announced 25 per cent would be set aside for an Indigenous-led operation starting next year. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

A second partnership involving Newfoundland and Labrador Indigenous groups is vying for a share of the arctic surf clam quota.

Labrador's NunatuKavut, the Innu of Quebec and the Mi'qmaq of New Brunswick have partnered with Ocean Choice International in a pan-Atlantic bid for the lucrative fishery.

"The Indigenous communities will see significant benefits from this partnership including employment, capacity building and revenue," Andy Turnbull, CEO of Nunacor, the economic development company for the NunatuKavut Community Council in Labrador, said in a release.

Arctic surf clam is largely exported to Asia, where it is used in sushi. (Clearwater Seafoods)

Their proposal to fish, process and market arctic surf clam was submitted last week, but partners say they they are open to partnering with more Indigenous groups from P.E.I. and Nova Scotia.

Quota broken up

In September, federal fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc announced Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will give 25 per cent of the current quota to a new licence holder. This change may force the seafood company Clearwater, which has a processing plant in Grand Bank, to lose its monopoly.

The new entrant must be mostly Canadian-owned and an Indigenous entity based in Atlantic Canada or Quebec.

The Indigenous stakeholders in this latest alliance are NDC Fisheries, owned by the NunatuKavut Community Council; the Innu Band of Nutashkuan in Quebec; and the North Shore Micmac District Council in New Brunswick.

The Miawpukek First Nation, the Innu Nation and the Qalipu First Nation also got together to submit a proposal for the quota.

Ministers to meet

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador's fisheries minister met with his federal counterpart in New Brunswick Thursday.

Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources Gerry Byrne says they discussed, among other issues, the Atlantic surf clam quota.

Provincial Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources Gerry Byrne (right) is meeting with the federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc Thursday. (CBC)

Byrne is worried plant workers in Grand Bank could see less work if the surf clams are processed elsewhere. He said the federal government "must provide compensation, including retirement options" for fish harvesters and plant workers who lose work. 

"It is not only licensed fishermen who will be displaced from the fishery as a result of the Marshall decision, but crew members … and, if First Nations communities choose to develop their own processing facilities, plant workers as well," said Byrne, quoting a standing committee on fisheries and oceans report, tabled in 2000.

Byrne said DFO has deliberately and specifically tried to encourage Indigenous participation in the commercial fishery for more than 25 years.

"We've got a road map here, and the road map says that it is in all of our best interest to create reconciliation with Indigenous inclusion and commercial fisheries by Indigenous participants, [it] is helpful and warranted and there is a process to do it by buying existing quota from willing participants who want to sell it and transfer it to Indigenous persons," he said.

"That has been the policy that has been in place for now 25 years. The surf clam decision is a dramatic change in that road map, in that framework."

Clearwater, meanwhile, has announced a partnership with 13 Mi'kmaq bands in Nova Scotia to try to capture the new licence.

With files from The Broadcast