Mi’kmaq Coalition buys Clearwater, becomes Canada’s largest holder of shellfish licenses

We’koqma’q chief says she’s excited about how the deal will benefit future generations.

click to enlarge Mi’kmaq Coalition buys Clearwater, becomes Canada’s largest holder of shellfish licenses (2)
Stefan Sinclair-Fortin
Clearwater is the largest holder of shellfish licenses and quota in Canada.

On Monday, a coalition of Mi’kmaq First Nations, led by Membertou and Miawpukek First Nations, reached a deal to buy Clearwater Seafoods. Together with their new business partner, British Columbia-based Premium Brands Holdings Corporation, they are acquiring the seafood giant in a deal worth approximately $1 billion.

“Clearwater is one of the largest fully-integrated seafood companies in North America, and is now owned by the Mi’kmaq. A truly monumental day for our people,” says Membertou chief Terry Paul in a letter to the community.

The Mi’kmaq Coalition includes of First Nations across Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Along with Membertou and Miawpukek, the coalition is made up of Potlotek, Pictou Landing, Paqtnkek, Sipekne’katik and We’koqma’q First Nations.

Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley of the We’koqma’q First Nation tells The Coast this is a really exciting moment.

“I think of my great grandchildren, my great-great-grandchildren and everybody's great-great-grandchildren who should be still benefiting from the rewards of this purchase," says Bernard-Daisley. “It's an amazing, amazing feeling.”

Pending final approval from Cleaerwater shareholders, the deal makes the Mi’kmaq Coalition 50 percent owners of the business, and 100 percent owners of all Canadian Clearwater licences. These licences include the eight lobster licences for the offshore lobster fishing area 41, where Clearwater fishes year-round under different rules than inshore lobster fishing areas.

On top of lobster licences, Clearwater also holds licences for scallops, clams, crab and shrimp. It operates 21 vessels, most of them fishing in the North Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Two vessels fish the Argentine Continental Shelf taking part in the Patagonia scallop fishery.

According to a news release from coalition partner Premium Brands, the deal will provide “stable annual cash flows from Clearwater” to participating communities.

Bernard-Daisley says it has yet to be determined how exactly that money will benefit her individual band members. She also hopes to see employment of Indigenous people at Clearwater.

“The Mi'kmaq are not only exercising their right to a moderate livelihood, but their inherent rights to fish,” says Bernard-Daisley. “It shows our growth and it shows the capacity that we have built throughout the generations to be able to do something like this.”

Clearwater will continue to operate separately from the inshore commercial fisheries, and is separate from any First Nations rights-based moderate-livelihood fisheries.

“While the participating First Nations will continue to advance implementation of treaty rights with the government of Canada, commercial investments in the seafood sector are strategic investments to advance the prosperity of our communities, and position us as equal participants in the commercial economy,” says the letter from Membertou First Nation.

Clearwater has received criticism in the past for not publicly sharing science it conducts. Also for leaving lobster traps unattended for over 72 hours, a move that’s illegal because it can harm lobster populations. Bernard-Daisley says she couldn’t comment on those situations, but personally she’d like to see more transparency from the company.

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