A controversial decision on a coveted Arctic Surf Clam quota has been reversed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans – with no explanation why.
A release issued late Friday afternoon states the decision to overturn the creation of a fourth arctic surf clam licence was reversed over a month ago.
“In February 2018, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced it would be issuing a fourth Arctic Surf Clam licence to Five Nations Clam Company,” reads the statement.
“The current process to issue a fourth Arctic Surf Clam licence was cancelled in early July, and the reasons subsequently shared with the proponent. A new Arctic Surf Clam licence will not be issued in 2018.”
The new quota was created as a way to include local indigenous communities in the lucrative arctic surf clam fishery. Before February, all surf clam licences were held by Nova Scotia-based Clearwater Seafoods, who have a large processing plant in Grand Bank. The licence was to be awarded to The Five Nations Clam Company, a partnership between Nova Scotia-based Premium Seafoods and the Elsipogtog First Nation from New Brunswick.
A new expression of interest to include indigenous communities in the arctic surf clam quota will be issued for the 2019 surf clam fishery. DFO says the reversal will not affect the 2018 season.
Concerns were immediately raised about the initial award, including by provincial Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne, who pointed out there was no Newfoundland and Labrador connection to the Five Nations Clam Company, despite DFO saying there was representation from all Atlantic Provinces in the award.
On top of that, Premium Seafoods is headed by Edgar Samson, brother of Nova Scotia MP Darrell Samson.
The controversy culminated in an investigation into then-Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc by the federal ethics commissioner into a possible conflict of interest. That investigation is on-going.
In an interview with the Telegram on July 19, newly minted Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the decision on the award of the surf clam quota was to “move forward” with the award.
But, it appears the decision to reverse the award had already been made by Wilkinson’s predecessor LeBlanc before the federal cabinet shuffle on July 18.
If Wilkinson was aware of the change to the quota when he previously spoke with the Telegram, he didn’t make that clear.
Representatives from DFO, Premium Seafoods, or the Elsipogtog First Nation did not return requests for comment on Friday afternoon.
Bonavisa-Burin-Trinity MP Churence Rogers says DFO did not explain the reversal to him, despite the decision coming in early July. Rogers says he’s not concerned that DFO has not shared any explanation with him.
He says the move is good news for the people of Grand Bank.
“Today, the people of Grand Bank and the entire Burin Peninsula are the beneficiary of this great news. This is a good day for the people on this entire peninsula,” said rogers.
“I look forward to participating in the ongoing discussions with Clearwater Seafoods, OCI, Greig Seafoods, municipalities, and all stakeholders to avail of every opportunity that will benefit the people of the Burin Peninsula.”