Nova Scotia·Video

Amid announcement Clearwater is up for sale, CEO says it's 'business as usual'

Nova Scotia-based seafood giant Clearwater Seafoods announced Thursday it is evaluating offers to sell the company after it "recently received several expressions of interest."

Company founded in 1976 reported more than $600M in sales last year

Nova Scotia-based seafood giant Clearwater Seafoods announced Thursday it is evaluating offers to sell the company after it 'recently received several expressions of interest.' 3:00

The CEO of Clearwater Seafoods says it's "business as usual" at the company amid Thursday's announcement the company has launched a strategic review that includes a possible sale of part of or all of the business.

North America's largest shellfish producer said it has formed a special committee of independent directors to carry out the probe.

"The first thing I would tell you that we told all of our employees this morning is it's business as usual," said CEO Ian Smith.

"We don't expect things to change materially in terms of our outlook for the year. Our plants are up and running. We have vessels on refit as they normally are at this time of year, but when better weather hits, we'll be out there."

Share prices for the Bedford, N.S.-based company rose nearly 12 per cent Thursday on news it was considering a sale after it "recently received several expressions of interest."

"We are always getting interest in the company, particularly as we have grown, " Smith said.

He acknowledged the options under review include a sale, but he also repeatedly stressed the possibility of joint ventures, like the recent partnership with 14 Indigenous bands in its Arctic surf clam fishery.

"We are looking particularly at Indigenous partnerships in the future," he said. "It's really a question of how do we want to grow and where do we want to grow, and what's the best way to do it."

The company employs 1,500 people in Canada, virtually all of them in Atlantic Canada, where it operates a fleet of factory freezer trawlers and land-based plants to process lobster, scallops, clams, crab and sea cucumber.

The head office is located on the Bedford Highway, which is where the company's two founders — John Risley and Colin MacDonald — started the company in 1976 selling lobsters from the back of a truck.

More than $600M in sales last year

In 2019, Clearwater reported sales of $612 million in 59 countries.

The growth has been fuelled by operational efficiencies and technical innovation underpinned by the harvest licences the company has gradually accumulated. One of the most important questions in any sale is the fate of these licences.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada licensing policy requires that a corporation must be at least 51 per cent Canadian-owned to hold fishing licences in Canada.

"The objective of this policy is to keep the benefits deriving from the Canadian common fisheries resources in the hands of Canadians," DFO spokesperson Barre Campbell said in a statement to CBC News.

No timetable for review

Clearwater said it does not intend to disclose developments unless and until the board of directors has approved a specific transaction.

There is no timetable to complete the review.

RBC Capital Markets has been hired as financial adviser and Halifax law firm Stewart McKelvey are the lawyers on the case.

Clearwater previously rejected an offer from New Brunswick salmon farming company Cooke Seafoods.

On Thursday, Cooke spokesperson Andrew Lively said "the company does not comment on any potential mergers or acquisitions."

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