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Grand Bank makes case against additional Arctic surf clam licence

<p>Grand Bank Seafoods employee Damon Greene checks bags of Artic surf clams.</p>
<p>Grand Bank Seafoods employee Damon Greene checks bags of Artic surf clams.</p>

GRAND BANK, NL – Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews are at odds when it comes to the former’s recent announcement a new Arctic surf clam licence will be issued for next year.

“The minister and I don’t agree, but there definitely will be job losses in Grand Bank – and part-time work – if what he’s proposing proceeds,” Matthews told the Southern Gazette Thursday.

Matthews led a council delegation to St. John’s on Wednesday for a meeting with LeBlanc, in the city with other federal ministers for an annual cabinet retreat.

On Sept. 7, LeBlanc announced a fourth Arctic surf clam licence will be added for the 2018 fishery. The plan calls for 25 per cent of the existing total allowable catch (TAC) to go to the new entrant, which will be selected through an expression of interest.

Nova Scotia-based Clearwater currently holds the other three Arctic surf clam licences, utilizing the Grand Bank plant as its primary processing facility. The current TAC for the species is approximately 38,000 tonnes.

According to a news release from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the new entrant must be majority Canadian-owned and be an Indigenous entity located in the Atlantic provinces or Quebec. The deadline for written proposals to be submitted is Nov. 2.

“This is the first time that an Indigenous community will be able to participate in an offshore fishery,” LeBlanc said in the news release.

“Enhancing access to this fishery within the current total allowable catch provides an opportunity to broaden the access and benefits from this public resource while respecting the best available science. Today, we are taking a powerful step toward reconciliation.”

Not about company

The decision to add another licence isn’t about Clearwater, Matthews contended.

“The federal government, by this decision, is taking full-time, middle class jobs from rural Newfoundland and Labrador and rural Canada,” he said.

Though they didn’t get the desirable outcome they were hoping for, Matthews said Thursday the meeting with LeBlanc went well with good discussion back and forth.

Matthews said LeBlanc told him the new licence wasn’t “a done deal” and would be given more thought.

“He’s saying he wants to help the Indigenous people and the reconciliation process, and the Town of Grand Bank has absolutely no problem with that, but we do think there’s a better way of doing it, other than taking the people of our community and putting them on the EI payroll,” Matthews said.

“The Town of Grand Bank should not bear 100 per cent of the burden for what the minister is trying to do.”

Matthews said LeBlanc asked him to come back to him with some other ideas, and that’s what he intends to do.

“I will make some suggestions to him that probably, in my opinion, can put this on hold, and we can still move in some positive direction but not at the expense of Grand Bank,” he said.

Past concerns

New entrants into the Arctic surf clam fishery was also a concern for Grand Bank council in 2015, when Gail Shea, the Conservative fisheries minister at the time, announced a plan to increase the TAC for the species to 52,655 tonnes on the Banquereau Bank and Grand Banks beginning in 2016.

The increase automatically triggered the integrated fisheries management plan provision for new entrants in the fishery.

At that time, the Town of Grand Bank hired a consultant and put together an application seeking a licence of its own.

The quota increase was ultimately scuttled after the Liberals won the election that fall, however. Incoming fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo decided in December 2015 to keep the Arctic surf clam quota the same and committed to not introduce any new entrants until more scientific study on the species was completed.

According to the DFO news release, the most recent stock assessment of the Grand Banks was 2010 and serves as the basis for the current TAC. The assessment was based on a survey completed between 2007 and 2009.

Scientific work for the Grand Banks stock area is planned and an updated stock assessment will be completed once scientific work is finalized, it was noted.

Meanwhile, an assessment of Banquereau Bank took place this past April, and it is expected the results will be used for any future TAC decision or changes to management measures.

Matthews said he’s not opposed to competition for Arctic surf clams entirely, as that’s the nature of business. Clearwater runs a quality operation in Grand Bank that should be capable of going up against other businesses, he added.

“If the stocks can support it and the fishery is sustainable, it’s fair game, and we all have to accept that, and that’s what we’ll do – we’ll do our best to even be more efficient,” he said.

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