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Nova Scotia premier says he doesn't know if band part of surf clam licence


HALIFAX — Premier Stephen McNeil says he doesn't know whether a Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq band is part of a group awarded a lucrative surf clam fishing licence by Ottawa — but he says the licence shouldn't be awarded if there isn't one.

McNeil said Friday he's not concerned about who gets the licence, as long as there is participation by Mi'kmaq in his province.

"It's not up to me to determine who the federal government issues the licence to," he said. "What it is for me is to make sure our Indigenous population is part of whoever the licence is awarded to. I've been very clear that before that licence is actually issued, Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq need to be part of it."

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced Feb. 21 that the licence would go to the Five Nations Clam Company, saying the firm had Indigenous partners in each Atlantic province and Quebec.

But last week, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq chiefs and the Newfoundland and Labrador government said Five Nations did not have Indigenous partners from either province when the decision was made.

Late Thursday, Chief Aaron Sock of New Brunswick's Elsipogtog First Nation issued a statement saying the partners in the new Arctic surf clam venture include the Abegweit First Nation from P.E.I., and the Potlotek First Nation from Nova Scotia.

Sock also said the partnership with Cape Breton's Premium Seafoods Group includes the Innu First Nation of Nutashkuan from Quebec and the Inuit of Nunatukavut in Labrador.

Attempts to contact Potlotek chief Wilburt Marshall and Mi'kmaq chiefs co-chairman Terrance Paul were unsuccessful Friday.

LeBlanc has confirmed that Five Nations only had "reserved spots" for other Indigenous groups when he announced the winners of the licence competition.

As a result, Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne has taken issue with the process, saying the use of "reserved spots" doesn't meet the federal criteria.

Byrne is demanding a meeting with LeBlanc over a decision that could cost processing jobs eastern Newfoundland, while McNeil said he has not had any discussions with LeBlanc since the decision was made.

Byrne has also said his province may soon be asking Ottawa to offer the province's Indigenous communities "placeholders positions" in Nova Scotia's lobster industry, New Brunswick's scallop fishery and Quebec's lucrative crab and shrimp fisheries.

"The minister is being provocative," McNeil said Friday. "The fact of the matter is, this is about the surf clam licence."

The Arctic surf clam fishery generated $90 million in sales in 2016.

It operates in fishing grounds off Nova Scotia and eastern Newfoundland, and the current catch-limit is about 38,000 tonnes.

The licence decision ended a monopoly for Halifax-based industry giant Clearwater Seafoods Inc., which supports the federal initiative but is also calling for a review.

 

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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