Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne says he doesn’t think the province has legal recourse against Ottawa over the Arctic surf clam quota, but he’s seeking a legal opinion.
Last year, the government announced it would add a fourth licence comprising 25 per cent of the total allowable catch of Arctic surf clam, and that the successful applicant would be an Indigenous entity and majority Canadian-owned.
Five Nations Premium Clam was awarded the quota on Thursday. The company is a partnership with five Indigenous groups — from each Atlantic Province and Quebec — and Nova Scotia-based Premium Seafoods.
CEO Edgar Samson says the Innu First Nation is this province’s Indigenous partner in the agreement.
Clearwater Seafoods has already indicated it is going to challenge the decision in court.
Byrne says because the principle of adjacency and historical attachment isn’t built into the current Fisheries Act, he’s not sure if the province can sue the federal government, but he’s seeking a legal opinion.
“I don’t know on what basis (Clearwater) put forward a court challenge on the decision. I look forward to hearing that,” said Byrne.
“If there are negative consequences to Newfoundland and Labrador in terms of employment and economic activity, we will expect the federal government to compensate accordingly.”
The town of Grand Bank on the Burin Peninsula will likely feel pressure due to the decision. The town is home to a Clearwater processing plant that currently offers full-time employment to 125 people. Byrne says he’s concerned about the future of that plant.
“I can see no other recourse than that the plant may now become a seasonal operation. That’s just terrible,” he said.
The decision was made to allow Indigenous communities access to a resource they have harvested for centuries as a measure toward reconciliation.
Byrne says he supports reconciliation, but the way Ottawa handled the quota decision caused more harm than good.
“We all support reconciliation with Indigenous communities. But this decision has pitted province versus province, community versus community, and First Nation against First Nation,” he said.
The application process required First Nations groups to partner with an industry player in order to be considered for the quota. Nine applications were received from across Atlantic Canada.
For years, Halifax’s Clearwater Seafood has had a monopoly on the lucrative shellfish — in 2016 the company made $92 million from the fishery.
Meanwhile, FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary echoes Byrne’s thoughts on adjacency.
“Our inshore harvesters and rural communities should be at the head of the line for any new quotas,” said Cleary.
“Our harvesters are starving for fish, and the feds are taking from the few healthy stocks we have left, and carving them up for groups with no connection to the resource. That’s just wrong.”
With files from the Canadian Press