Nfld. & Labrador

Surf clam Indigenous quota will mean jobs, revenue for Labrador partner

An Indigenous group in Labrador is making no apology for joining with Atlantic and Quebec partners in a deal to harvest coveted surf clams.

NunatuKavut president says group put in own proposal but was turned down

The president of NunatuKavut, Todd Russell, says the surf clam partnership will mean harvesting jobs for some people from Labrador. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The Labrador partner in a First Nations consortium awarded a share of the coveted and controversial surf clam quota by Ottawa says it will mean jobs and money for its members.

"We saw a real opportunity to get involved in a new fishery for us, which would provide capacity building, some jobs and certainly some revenue so it seemed like a good mix," said Todd Russell, president of NunatuKavut.

The red meat of the Arctic surf clam is a popular item in sushi. (Clearwater Seafoods)

The group, which represents about 6,000 Inuit in southern Labrador, has set up a commercial fisheries company called NDC, identified earlier in March as one of the partners in the Five Nations Clam Company.​

Five Nations beat out several other bidders for a 25 per cent share — 8,924 tonnes — of the Arctic surf clam quota previously held by Clearwater Fisheries.

Other partners in the consortium are First Nation groups from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.

The quota will be processed in Arichat, on Cape Breton Island, by Premium Seafoods.

Own proposal rejected, Russell says

While NunatuKavut will not benefit from plant jobs, Russell estimates it will get a share of the harvesting jobs.

"I think we're anticipating somewhere in the range of 70 to 80 jobs, shared proportionally between the various Indigenous peoples," Russell told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning on Tuesday.

"I can understand that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is very upset ... there are some pointed concerns around Grand Bank," Russell acknowledged, a reference to the concern that plant jobs on the Burin Peninsula will be lost.

But he said that is an issue to be worked out with Clearwater.

Clearwater Fisheries, which previously held a monopoly on the surf clam quota, processed the clams in Grand Bank. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Russell said the NunatuKavut Community Council submitted its own proposal to get a surf clam licence, but it was not accepted.

"When we lost, of course we were extremely disappointed, we were hurt in fact," he said. "But we were approached by Five Nations, saw some synergies there."

The process has been criticized, since Five Nations did not have its partners in place before getting the quota, unlike the requirements for other bidders.

"There's no doubt there was a different approach taken but in terms of the structure of their proposal, it was very similar to ours," Russell said.

While Clearwater has threatened to sue over the reduction of its quota, the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Dominic LeBlanc, has said the company does not own the clams — Canadians do.​


Marilyn Boone is a retired journalist who worked for CBC News in St. John's.

With files from Labrador Morning