OTTAWA: Canada’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is investigating the minister of fisheries’ recent decision to award an arctic surf clam quota.

Jocelyne L. Brisebois, a spokesperson for the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner confirmed that on May 11 commissioner Mario Dion launched an examination under the Conflict of Interest Act.

The act’s confidentiality requirements prevent the office from providing any more information, and Brisebois was unable to provide a timeline for the probe.

“The amount of time that it takes our office to complete an investigation depends on a number of factors,” she explained. “These include the complexity of the matter under investigation, the time needed to obtain relevant documents or schedule interviews, the availability of witnesses, and the number of investigations underway, as well as the report drafting and editing processes. We conduct our investigations thoroughly and with a high degree of diligence, and report on them as quickly as possible.”

In September 2017, LeBlanc announced his intention to introduce a fourth license for arctic surf clam representing 25 per cent of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for that fishery.

At the time, Clearwater Seafoods held three licences covering 100 per cent of the TAC for arctic surf clams. Prior to the minister’s announcement, Clearwater reached a commercial arrangement in which they would be the operational partner with 13 Mi’kmaq communities from Nova Scotia.

On February 21, LeBlanc announced that a new license for arctic surf clam was issued to the Five Nations Clam Company, which includes Premium Seafoods on Isle Madame and Potlotek First Nation in Richmond County.

The Five Nations Clam Company – a new entity comprised of First Nations from Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick – will partner with Premium Seafoods to harvest, process and market the catch.

Premium Seafoods president and CEO Edgar Samson noted his company has enjoyed a working relationship with numerous First Nations communities for over 15 years.

Premium Seafoods said it has over 30 years experience in processing, purchasing and distributing various seafood species throughout the world. The company holds offshore fishing licenses, processes crab and groundfish, and buys and sells lobsters.

Premium said it was recently forced to temporarily close its modern, state-of-the-art shrimp processing plant in Arichat due to significant reductions in shrimp quotas.

Clearwater said it is pursuing legal options because it invested hundreds of millions to develop the fishery and the market, including $156 million of investments in the last three years.

In 2016, Clearwater’s revenue from arctic surf clam sales was $91.9 million, which represented approximately 15 per cent of the company’s total revenue.

The DFO said it assessed proposals by the direct and significant benefits that will be generated for Indigenous communities, including shore-based employment, skills training, and other community benefits. According to the DFO, priority was given to proposals received from multiple communities that could demonstrate the ability to collectively manage this fishery to benefit several Indigenous communities.

On March 2, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs, which represents 13 communities across Nova Scotia, called for a full and immediate review of the DFO’s process in awarding the licence.

The assembly said in a press release it was very disappointed in the decision because the unsuccessful bid was 100 per cent Mi’kmaq-owned, with jobs and economic benefits rippling to all Nova Scotians.

The assembly said the successful bid does not promote reconciliation and fails to fulfill the criteria of the application process. The assembly asserts that Nova Scotia Indigenous participation is lacking from the group and Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq communities have not signed on to work with Five Nations Clam Company.

The assembly went on that the lack of information surrounding why the successful candidates were chosen requires further investigation.

The assembly said the arctic surf clam licence could be an economic game-changer for Indigenous communities, but not if Indigenous groups are simply used in the process. The licence was an opportunity to bring benefits, employment and reconciliation, none of which are being achieved at this time, the assembly noted.

After the assembly issued their statement, Premier Stephen McNeil confirmed on March 2 that he wrote a letter to Ottawa during the application process in support of the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq.

On May 11, the Fisheries Council of Canada said the decision undermined Canada’s fisheries sector, impacting economic growth opportunities in Canada’s coastal communities.