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N.L. First Nations should have access to other Atlantic fisheries: Byrne

Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources and Corner Brook MHA Gerry Byrne speaks during Thurday night’s pre-budget consultation at the civic centre.
Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources and Corner Brook MHA Gerry Byrne - Chris Quigley

Minister says there’s still hope to reverse arctic surf clam quota decision

Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne proposes a tit-for-tat on Indigenous claims to Atlantic-Canadian fish quotas.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced last month that a lucrative 25 per cent share of the arctic surf clam quota was awarded to the Five Nations Clam Co., headed by Chief Aaron Stock of the Elsipogtog First Nations Band of New Brunswick.

Byrne says if that company can reserve space for groups to take a part of the surf clam quota, then this province should be able to reserve space for its First Nations groups in other quotas in Atlantic fisheries.

“We will put forward our expectation of a placeholder position on offshore lobster off of southwest Nova Scotia for our Indigenous communities here in Newfoundland and Labrador,” Byrne said.

“That may not be all that welcomed by Indigenous nations and communities in other parts of Atlantic Canada. But if this is indeed a proper process, that this is something the (federal fisheries) minister is going to stand behind, the minister is also going to have to accept what I just proposed is infinitely reasonable.”

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc has said the licence has yet to be officially issued for the arctic surf clam quota, which gives Byrne some hope the decision can be revisited.

It has since come to light that the Five Nations Clam Co. had only the New Brunswick First Nations on board when the quota was awarded, and that four other spaces were reserved for other Indigenous groups to sign on after the quota was awarded.

Byrne says the reserved spaces for yet-to-be-determined groups goes against the spirit of the request for proposals (RFP) issued in September 2017.

“It appears that the Five Nations Clam Company was the One Nation Clam Company. That was known by the minister and the department at the time of the awarding of the RFP,” said Byrne.

“That causes us all great concern about whether or not this was a proper process. The evidence shows this was not done properly.”

Halifax-based Clearwater Seafoods, which originally held a monopoly on the arctic surf clam quota, is planning its own legal challenge to the quota award. Byrne says it may have a case, but this province is not likely to go down that road.

The federal Fisheries Act doesn’t mention adjacency as a principle for assigning quotas. If it did, this province would have a better case to change the position of DFO, Byrne says.

Without legal or legislative grounds to overturn the decision, Byrne says he is going to have to rely on good old-fashioned political pressure to make any changes happen.

“It’s called public discussion, public support. That’s what politics is all about, in its best form,” he said.

While the idea was floated by reporters, Byrne says he’s not going to go down the road of an “Anything But Liberal” campaign heading into the next federal election if he doesn’t get his way.

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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