HALIFAX: The company which controls the quota for the lucrative Arctic surf clam said they reached a deal with First Nations in Nova Scotia.

On March 11, Clearwater Seafoods announced it reached agreements with 14 First Nations communities in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador under a 50-year partnership.

“The strength of this agreement is the opportunity it creates for the 14 First Nations adjacent to the resource to become meaningful participants in the commercial fishery,” said Chief Terrance Paul, Chief of Membertou First Nation and Co-Chair of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. “This is a business development model that has been successful for our community in other sectors and it makes sense to extend it to the seafood industry with Clearwater, as they have industry knowledge and experience.”

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs is comprised of all 13 Mi’kmaq Chiefs in Nova Scotia and is the highest level of collective governance for the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia.

Clearwater said the voluntary agreement will be effective immediately and benefits to participating First Nations are retroactive to January 2019. The agreement allows annual revenue sharing, training, leadership development, employment, as well as procurement of goods and services from Indigenous suppliers.

“Clearwater is taking a leadership role to build strong business relationships with First Nations,” Ian Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Clearwater Seafoods, stated. “This is an opportunity to expand access and participation in commercial fisheries in a collaborative and voluntary manner. Together we can build a valuable and sustainable Canadian seafood industry for everyone while respecting historic investments.”

The partners are also committing to work together to submit an Expression of Interest in any new upcoming Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) process.

In February, 2018, it was announced by then fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc the department would be issuing a fourth Arctic surf clam licence to Five Nations Clam Company, led by Elsipogtog First Nation and Premium Seafoods based out of Arichat.

But on August 10, the DFO announced in a news release it will no longer issue a licence to Five Nations and gave no reasons for the decision.

A new expression of interest process was launched earlier this year with submissions being evaluated by an independent third-party who made the recommendation to the DFO.

The Arctic surf clam is bright red tongue-shaped seafood that is exported to Asia where it is used in sushi and is known as hokkigai or bei gei bei. The quota – some 9,600 tonnes a year – was a prize valued at tens of millions of dollars.

The license, which is awarded based on the benefits it provides to the Indigenous community, sparked controversy when it was unclear exactly how involved the Indigenous community was with Five Nations Clam Company.

Court records filed last April declared Five Nations was only 25 per cent Indigenous-owned, with the remainder in the hands of Premium Seafoods.

LeBlanc also faced criticism for possibly having family ties to Five Nations Clam Company. The federal Conservatives suggested a relative of LeBlanc’s wife had financial stakes in the winning bid. LeBlanc was re-assigned to another portfolio after a cabinet shuffle last July.

In a press release, Clearwater added the agreement is an example of business responding to the call for action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is consistent with its commitment to diversity in the workplace.

“We know we can be a leader for our industry and demonstrate that Indigenous reconciliation can unite and strengthen communities, build trust, secure existing jobs, create new ones and provide greater prosperity for all,” said Smith. “Clearwater supports the objectives of reconciliation and believes business has a role in increasing Indigenous participation in the Canadian economy including the seafood industry.”