Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews says there’s nothing to celebrate regarding the recent announcement by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to cancel the licence issued to the Five Nations Clam Company for Arctic surf clam.
“Not one thing to celebrate, we haven’t won anything,” Matthews said. “I‘m certainly not impressed by the decision; there has been no change of heart by DFO or the federal minister.”
In February of this year former federal Fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc announced the department would issue a fourth license for surf clams to the company comprised of First Nations people from Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
The license would have given the new holder access to 25 per cent of the existing total allowable catch (TAC).
Up until the issuing of the fourth license, Clearwater Seafood Ltd. held the only other licences for Arctic surf clam, with processing of the product done at the company’s plant in Grand Bank.
Now, the plan is for the federal government to hire a yet-to-be-named third party company to prepare for another expression on interest for the licence next year. The plan is to have another license awarded to another company by 2020.
Matthews said the announcement to delay issuing the fourth licence has not helped the town, but rather it has created a feeling of uncertainty for people who rely on the clams for their livelihood.
“I don’t buy into this crap,” he said. “I don’t buy into it at all, and I think if the government — if they really want to really do something — reverse it, cancel it and don’t bring it up anymore until the biomass of Arctic surf clam can support a sustainable fishery and increase the quota.”
Matthews added that if DFO want to look at issuing a licence, “Then that’s fair game, I’m OK with that, but I’m not OK with what they’re doing today.
“They’re just dragging it out and our community, our people and the 450 people that work in the (plant) got this hanging over their heads for two more seasons.”
During a press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 14 regarding the decision to cancel the licence, newly appointed federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he could not provide information regarding the decision.
“We had discussions with the proponent. We went back and forth with the proponent on a number of occasions and made the decision that we would be terminating the contract,” he explained.
Other than adding that the decision was made in early July, the minister would not go into further detail regarding the decision.
“For reasons of commercial confidentiality, I can’t go into the specifics, but the decision was taken a few weeks ago,” he said.
Wilkinson also explained that DFO are in talks with Clearwater Seafood Ltd. about the remaining quota.
“So, we have said — and we’re certainly in dialogue with Clearwater — that until there is a new entrant in place that the TAC will likely go back to Clearwater,” he said. “There’s some issues that we need to discuss with them and we’re going to be working through that in the next few weeks.”
Matthews said if the intent of DFO is to allow Clearwater to harvest the additional clams, it is something that needs to be resolved in a timely manner.
“If the federal government is going to make that decision it’s time to make that decision,” he said. “We have really about three months left this year — that’s all we have for fishing.
“If you’re going to give it back to Clearwater, then let’s get it done now and not procrastinate and wait on this again.”
With files from David Maher