Clearwater to maintain control of Arctic surf clam fishery for now

The Trudeau government, surf clams and a brewing battle in another fishery

Halifax-based Clearwater will continue to hold its monopoly of the Arctic surf clam fishery for now, but Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard said it will look to find an Indigenous entity to hold a fourth licence for the 2020 fishery.

"This will allow for the economic benefits to remain in coastal communities while Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to work to broaden," DFO and the coast guard said Tuesday in a joint news release.

Arctic surf clam is a bright-red, tongue-shaped seafood that's exported to Asia for sushi. The new quota, which amounts to about 9,600 tonnes a year, is worth tens of millions of dollars.

Repairing relationships

"The decision to introduce Indigenous participation in the Arctic surf clam fishery is consistent with the Government of Canada's commitment to developing a renewed relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples," the release said.

"Enhancing access to the Arctic Surf Clam fishery broadens the distribution of benefits from this public resource, and is a powerful step toward reconciliation."

DFO tried to give 25 per cent of the current quota to a First Nations entity this year, but ended up cancelling the licence in July without an explanation.

Five First Nations Clam Company was led by Elsipogtog First Nation of New Brunswick and Arichat, N.S.-based Premium Seafoods. It was awarded the fourth licence but the decision was criticized by other First Nations and Clearwater. It was later challenged in Federal Court.

This time around, DFO and the coast guard said it will be launching a new expression of interest process to find an Indigenous entity to hold the fourth licence next spring so the participant can begin fishing a new licence in 2020.

An independent third party will evaluate submissions received, the news release said, adding more details of the process would be made available in "due course."