In Surprise Move, Indigenous Coalition Buys Largest Atlantic Canada Fishery

It's a "win" for Indigenous fishing communities who have been embroiled in months of conflict and intimidation by white commercial fishermen.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
November 10, 2020, 3:17pm
Commercial fishermen with clearwater
A coalition of Mi’kmaq First Nations will soon become part owners of Clearwater Seafood. Photo via Facebook/Clearwater Seafood

A coalition of Mi’kmaq First Nations will soon become part owners of the largest fishing company in Atlantic Canada, a “win” for Indigenous fishing communities after months of intimidation by white commercial fishermen in Nova Scotia. 

On Monday, the Mi’kmaq coalition and Premium Brands Holding Corporation, specializing in food manufacturing and distribution, announced they partnered to acquire the publicly traded shellfish company, Clearwater Seafoods, for $1 billion, including debt. 

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Clearwater has been around since 1976 and is Atlantic Canada’s largest wild seafood company. The expectation is that the new partnership will result in annual sales topping $1.3 billion.

It’s the largest investment in the seafood industry by an Indigenous group in Canada. 

“This is a transformational opportunity for the Mi'kmaq to become significant participants in the commercial fishery,” said Chief Terry Paul, Membertou First Nation in a statement. 

Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton and Miawpukek First Nation in Newfoundland and Labrador are leading the coalition. Other First Nations, including Sipekne'katik, have also said they’d like to participate.

Sipekne’katik First Nation announced the creation of its own fishery in September, which was followed by months of violence and intimidation from commercial fishermen. Indigenous fishermen on the ground allege that they’ve had their lobster traps damaged and stolen, and have had flare guns shot at them. Commercial fishers maintain that fishing off season harms conservation efforts.

But the Mi’kmaq say they take less than 5 percent of lobster stock in the areas where they fish. They also have a treaty- and Supreme Court-backed right to fish during off-seasons to earn a “moderate livelihood.” 

The new fishery, which offers Indigenous-led fishing licences, allows for that.

Paul told CBC News the acquisition will not affect local efforts by Mi’kmaw fishers to run their own moderate livelihood fishery in Nova Scotia. 

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"Our investment in a commercial offshore fishery is completely separate from our commercial inshore and moderate livelihood fisheries," Paul said. “We're still very incredibly committed to our other fisheries and to our communities on moderate livelihood.”

The Mi’kmaq coalition will become 50 percent owners of Clearwater and will also hold all of the company’s Canadian fishing licences, including for lobsters, clams, and crabs. 

"We're a player now. In order to be in business, you first have to play the game,” Paul told CBC News. "You have to play to win, and we won."

The deal is supposed to close early next year and “leverages the expertise within the company while advancing reconciliation in Canada," said Colin MacDonald, chair of the Clearwater board of directors.

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