Clearwater Seafoods wants 72 tonnes of lobster added to its annual harvesting quota

·3 min read
Clearwater Seafoods is arguing a proposed increase to its lobster catch poses no risk to stocks in its lobster fishing area. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Clearwater Seafoods is arguing a proposed increase to its lobster catch poses no risk to stocks in its lobster fishing area. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Halifax-headquartered Clearwater Seafoods wants to increase the amount of lobster it's allowed to catch each year in Nova Scotia waters by 72 tonnes.

The Indigenous-owned company has exclusive rights to Lobster Fishing Area 41, or LFA 41, off southern Nova Scotia where Clearwater maintains a long-held quota of 720 tonnes.

Last fall the Membertou First Nation and Mi'kmaw partners in the company asked the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to increase the total allowable catch by ten per cent.

In response DFO has issued an "interim" total allowable catch of 720 tonnes for 2023 while it considers this request.

'Increase economic benefits'

"This cautious increase will provide the opportunity for science to assess the impact of additional removals without risk to the LFA 41 stock or adjacent fisheries," said spokespersons Jennifer Deleskie, vice-president for business development and public affairs with the Membertou, and Christine Penney, vice-president of Clearwater's sustainability and public affairs, on behalf of the Mi'kmaq Coalition.

They said the quota can be sustainably increased and it will "increase economic benefits for the Mi'kmaw communities who have invested in the fishery."

Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq and Premium Brands of B.C. bought Clearwater in 2020.

It was the single-largest investment in the seafood industry by any Indigenous group in Canada.

Putting quota request in perspective

The current offshore quota represents about 15 per cent of the lobster Clearwater sells each year and a little over two per cent of landings from the adjacent lobster fishing areas 33 and 34.

The most recent DFO scientific stock assessment says the lobster population remains in the healthy zone in Clearwater's harvesting area. Clearwater argues the increase poses no risk to the stock.

CBC/Source: DFO
CBC/Source: DFO

"The LFA 41 resource is healthy relative to historic conditions and biological productivity is considered to be high," Deleskie and Penney said.

How the monopoly works

The LFA 41 quota is held by eight licences each entitled to 12.5 per cent of the catch.

Clearwater's ownership coalition of seven Mi'kmaw communities hold six of the licences and the Membertou First Nation holds the other two.

Lobster Fishing Area 41, which starts 50 miles from shore and runs to the 200-mile limit, extends from Georges Bank to the Laurentian Channel between Cape Breton and Newfoundland.

Licence conditions confine harvesting to offshore waters south of Halifax and in fact the company fishes entirely off southern Nova Scotia.

A single Clearwater vessel — Shelburne-based Randell Dominaux — catches the quota.

Unlike every other lobster fishery in Canada, LFA 41 has a quota and the season is year long.

Those opposed

DFO is being urged to reject the increase by multiple associations representing over 1,500 inshore licence holders who harvest in LFA 33 and 34.

The Brazil Rock Lobster Association, the Coldwater Lobster Association and the LFA 33 Advisory Committee have submitted letters to DFO in opposition.

The LFA 34 Advisory Committee is expected to submit a letter of opposition shortly.

"An additional 72 tonnes of lobsters entering the market poses detrimental financial impacts upon LFA 33 and 34 harvesters and the price they receive for their lobsters," Brazil Rock said in its March 8 letter.

On April 13, Coldwater Lobster said landings in the area have been trending downward despite healthy stock status.

"This notable decrease is concerning and further supports the need to take a 'precautionary approach' in managing the fishery."

Colin Sproul of the Unified Fisheries Conservation Alliance, a province-wide association, says the unanimity shows "that there is no social licence for a mega corporation to take from inshore fishermen and southwest Nova Scotia."

"This is one lobster resource in the Gulf of Maine and off southwestern Nova Scotia and were the minister to grant that increase it would literally be coming out of the back pockets of inshore fishermen to a mega corporation," Sproul told CBC News.