Nova Scotia

What's next for Clearwater Seafoods now that it's been sold?

The sale of seafood giant Clearwater Seafoods officially closed last week and the Mi'kmaw chief who helped broker the deal says he's looking forward to bringing more jobs to First Nations communities. 

Chief Terry Paul from the Membertou First Nation says first priority is to pay off loan

Membertou Chief Terry Paul says the goal is to provide jobs for Mi'kmaw people at all levels of the company. (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

With the sale of Clearwater Seafoods officially closed, the Mi'kmaw chief who helped broker the $1-billion deal says he's looking forward to bringing more jobs to First Nations communities. 

"Part of the investment for sure on our short-term and long-term plans is to gain employment for our people, and that is anywhere from the deckhand to the executive," Chief Terry Paul of the Membertou First Nation told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

"We have plans in place now to help our people gain employment with Clearwater Seafoods if they're qualified, and of course, we will provide training for them." 

Six Mi'kmaw communities in Nova Scotia, and one in Newfoundland and Labrador, joined forces with B.C.-based Premium Brands Holdings to buy the seafood giant. The sale closed last week. 

The ownership is split 50-50 between the Mi'kmaw coalition — led by Membertou and the Miawpukek First Nation in Newfoundland and Labrador — and Premiums Brands. The coalition owns 100 per cent of the quotas, Paul said. 

"I'm really, really proud ... of the communities to be able to get together and to be able to find a company, you know, as astute as Premium Brands," he said.

Clearwater Seafoods is now jointly owned by a coalition of seven Mi'kmaw communities and Premium Brands in B.C. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Mi'kmaw coalition received a 30-year loan of $250 million from the First Nations Finance Authority to buy its share, and Paul said the first order of business is to pay off that debt.

He said the new owners will find ways to grow the company, which currently has harvesting operations in the United Kingdom and South America and a worldwide sales operation.

The Mi'kmaw bands will be working with Premium Brands to figure out what's next, he said.

"I feel like … we can work very well together and they have great management and investment expertise, and we get a lot of comfort from that. We look for them to provide really good leadership in growing this company," Paul said. 

Moderate livelihood fisheries

Paul said he also hopes to work with the Canadian government to buy lobster harvested by Mi'kmaw fishers as part of the moderate livelihood fisheries. 

"We're hoping to be able to do that without being hassled by anyone," he said. "We want the government's and the industry's support … We already purchase inshore lobster and we want to continue working with the inshore industry, all of it, not only the Indigenous market but all of the market."

Clearwater is North America's largest producer of shellfish and holds Canadian harvest licences for a variety of species including lobster, scallop, crab and clams.

The current management team at Clearwater will stay on, and Paul said the Mi'kmaw coalition and Premium Brands will form a board with four people representing each side to oversee operations.

A few years ago Clearwater Seafoods was convicted of violating fisheries regulations when it was caught illegally storing thousands of lobster traps on the ocean floor. The company had been repeatedly warned by Canadian authorities to stop the practice because it was a conservation risk.

Paul said the new owners are committed to sustainability. 

"Science has to come first for us and we feel that Clearwater has been doing a really good job of doing that, too," he said.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning