Grand Bank mayor breathes sigh of relief after Clearwater sale to First Nations buyers

·3 min read

The largest employer in Grand Bank is changing hands in a billion-dollar deal announced this week, but the town's mayor expects few, if any, shock waves for the Burin Peninsula fishing community.

Clearwater Seafoods announced a sale Monday that will see B.C.-based Premium Brands and a coalition of First Nations take ownership.

The company has two processing plants in Newfoundland. One of those, in Grand Bank, employs about 125 people, according to its website.

"Clearwater has been the heartbeat of Grand Bank for 30 years," Mayor Rex Matthews said Wednesday. "They pay good wages; they have three major harvesting vessels."

Given that status, Matthews alluded to an air of uncertainty in the town before the sale.

"It could have been a lot different," he said. "If some companies got their hands on Clearwater, it may have been broken down or broken up."

Instead, with a coalition of Mi'kmaq bands holding the title — including nearby Miawpukek First Nation — Matthews said he's confident the Grand Bank operation will be, at worst, "business as usual."

"On first blush to me, it looks very, very positive. The same team that Clearwater has had over the years, the same management team, senior management, they're staying in place.The workforce will have a stability that they want.… They're going to want to produce and invest and grow the company," he said.

"I think was a real good strategy. And I think the First Nations [coalition] is going to bring a lot to this new company."

Next step for industry in Miawpukek

One of Newfoundland's own Mi'kmaq bands is part of that coalition.

"We could either stand on the shoreline and watch things go by … or get involved and hope to God it would be something great for the future, for our children," said Miawpukek Chief Mi'sel Joe.

Bruce Tilley/CBC
Bruce Tilley/CBC

The new ownership is a logical next step for the community, which has its own fleet of fishing vessels and has dabbled in partnerships in the past. Joe says it's essential to keep growing the harvesting businesses in Miawpukek — and not only for prosperity's sake.

"We have to keep doing things to change the outlook of what people see us as," he said. referring to stereotypes that persist about the community. He described a recent interaction with a taxi driver from Corner Brook, who claimed Conne River was full of "drunks and gas sniffers" reliant on welfare, as an example.

"This is the kind of image that's out there about Aboriginal people," Joe said.

St. Anthony mayor tentatively optimistic

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 company also employs 150 people on the Northern Peninsula, according to its website.

St. Anthony Mayor Krista Howell was unavailable for a phone interview Wednesday, but told CBC News she'd been talking to local stakeholders to get a sense of how the purchase might affect them.

"I do understand there are many lines of thinking and opinions about this transaction: the impact it will have on Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishermen, offshore [versus] inshore fisheries, access to fishing zones and so on," she said in a statement Wednesday.

Howell said she's cautiously optimistic for the future of operations in St. Anthony, given Clearwater's statement that it aims to protect jobs in Atlantic Canada.

"The town of St. Anthony has had a long-standing history of collaboration with Clearwater and we hope to continue more of the same," Howell said.

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