Clearwater Seafoods keeps Canadian surf clam monopoly for 2020

Halifax-based Clearwater Seafoods will keep its monopoly on Canada's lucrative Arctic surf clam for another year.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan said the company will retain a fourth licence in the fishery — 25 per cent of the quota — which has been set aside for Indigenous participants.

"At this point, it is a one year allocation," said Jordan Wednesday on her way into a meeting with provincial counterparts in Halifax.

Arctic surf clam is a red, tongue-shaped seafood that's exported to Asia for sushi.

Clearwater briefly lost its monopoly in 2018, when the Trudeau government — in an act of reconciliation — created a fourth surf clam licence.

The licence was originally awarded to a consortium of First Nations led by the Elsipogtog Band in New Brunswick and Premiums Seafoods of Arichat, N.S.

Robert Short/CBC

But the licence was cancelled after it emerged the partnership was formalized after the licence was awarded, that participants had family ties to the federal Liberals including then-Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, and were unable to secure a vessel to harvest the quota.

When Ottawa first put it up for bid, Clearwater was one of several big fishing companies that formed partnerships with Indigenous bands in the region and submitted unsuccessful proposals to win the fourth licence.

After the Elsipogtog consortium was stripped of the licence, Clearwater formed a new partnership with all 13 of Nova Scotia's Mi'kmaw bands and the Miawpukek First Nation in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans restored the quota to Clearwater for 2019 and has now allocated it again to the Halifax-based company while it continues to review the fishery.

"We are taking our time to look at the whole process and if there will be a new entrant," said Jordan.

Clearwater surf clam sales top $100M

Clearwater vice-president Chrisitne Penney welcomed the decision. She noted revenues from the fishery are shared with its First Nations partners.

"This is a benefits and revenue-sharing agreement that provides meaningful and measurable direct and indirect benefits to Indigenous peoples and their communities while protecting existing jobs in the fishery," Penney said in a statement.

Clearwater said its First Nations partners, not the company, hold the licence.

When the agreement was announced in 2019, Penney said any suggestion the deal restores a monopoly is "entirely inaccurate."

"Clearwater would not have any ownership," Penney said.

Surf clams are a big earner for Clearwater, with annual sales topping $100 million. The new licence for 2020, amounting to about 8,900 tonnes, is worth more than $20 million in sales.