Nova Scotia Supreme Court approves sale of Clearwater Seafoods

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The Nova Scotia Supreme Court approved the sale of Canadian seafood giant Clearwater Seafoods Friday morning.

It is the final step in a deal described as "the single largest investment in the seafood industry by any Indigenous group in Canada."

On Thursday, shareholders voted in favour of the sale to a partnership of Premium Brands of British Columbia and a coalition of Mi'kmaw First Nations led by the Membertou band of Nova Scotia and the Miawpukek in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Court approval for the mega deal took 20 minutes.

A company lawyer told Justice Christa Brothers that shareholders holding 70 per cent of all shares voted 99.98 percent in favour at a meeting Thursday.

"Hearing that there has been no filing of any dissent, no notice of dissent and that there has been an overwhelming vote in favour of it, I am prepared to grant the order today," Brothers said.

The Mi'kmaq are putting up $250 million for their share of the purchase that gives them control of Clearwater's Canadian fishing licences, which include shrimp, snow crab, scallop and offshore lobster.

Clearwater's success and resentment

The company is a local rags-to-riches story, growing from a back-of-the-truck lobster operation in the 1970s to Canada's leading seafood company with global shellfish exports to markets it pioneered in Europe and Asia.

Sales in 2019 were $616 million.

But the company was also the object of resentment in some coastal communities. It held the monopoly right to harvest offshore lobster and surf clams until recently.

Founder John Risley told the business website AllNova the involvement of First Nations should insulate Clearwater from criticism that had stifled growth in recent years.

"The company has now removed that target because the licences are going to be owned by the First Nation and now they're off limits. No one is going to be talking about taking things away from the First Nations and that is very good for the company," Risley told the website.

The company did not respond to a CBC request for comment.

Deal valued at $1B

The total value of the transaction is estimated at $1 billion.

Clearwater vessels will continue to fish under the existing licences and current management will continue to run the operation.

In addition to its Canadian fleets and plants on the East Coast, the company also has harvesting operations in the United Kingdom and South America, and a worldwide sales operation.

The deal pays shareholders $8.25 per share.

After reviewing the transaction, the Competition Bureau of Canada issued a no-action letter on Jan. 6, clearing the sale.

Membertou First Nation said Chief Terry Paul will comment when the deal closes, which will be by Jan. 25.