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Grand Bank council to discuss new Arctic surf clam licence with LeBlanc

Boxes of Artic surf clams are stacked on a pallet for shipping at Clearwater Seafoods plant in Grand Bank.
Boxes of Artic surf clams are stacked on a pallet for shipping at Clearwater Seafoods plant in Grand Bank.

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc's announcement last week a new Arctic surf clam licence will be issued for next year is concerning news for the Town of Grand Bank.

Mayor Rex Matthews raised the topic during council's regular meeting on Monday afternoon.

Matthews said a council delegation has a 30-minute meeting scheduled with LeBlanc on Wednesday afternoon in St. John’s, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal cabinet ministers are gathered this week for an annual retreat.

“The problem is it’s taking away existing quota from our fish plant here in Grand Bank,” Matthews said, adding the change could have a major impact on the facility.

On Sept. 7, LeBlanc announced a fourth licence for Arctic surf clams will be added for the 2018 fishery. Twenty-five per cent of the existing total allowable catch (TAC) will go to the new entrant, which will be selected through an expression of interest.

Nova Scotia-based Clearwater currently holds the other three Arctic surf clam licences, utilizing the Grand Bank plant as its primary processing facility.

The current TAC for the species is approximately 38,000 tonnes.

According to a news release from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the new entrant must be majority Canadian-owned and be an Indigenous entity located in the Atlantic provinces or Quebec. The deadline for written proposals to be submitted is Nov. 2.

“This is the first time that an Indigenous community will be able to participate in an offshore fishery,” LeBlanc said in the news release.

“Enhancing access to this fishery within the current total allowable catch provides an opportunity to broaden the access and benefits from this public resource while respecting the best available science. Today, we are taking a powerful step toward reconciliation.”

New entrants into Arctic surf clam fishery was also a concern for Grand Bank council in 2015, when Gail Shea, the Conservative fisheries minister at the time, announced a plan to increase the TAC for the species to 52,655 tonnes on the Banquereau Bank and Grand Banks beginning in 2016.

The increase automatically triggered the integrated fisheries management plan provision for new entrants in the fishery.

At that time, the Town of Grand Bank hired a consultant and put together an application seeking a licence of its own.

The quota increase was ultimately scuttled after the Liberals won the election that fall, however. Incoming fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo decided in December 2015 to keep the Arctic surf clam quota the same and committed to not introduce any new entrants until more scientific study on the species was completed.

According to the DFO news release, the most recent stock assessment of the Grand Banks was 2010 and serves as the basis for the current TAC. The assessment was based on a survey completed between 2007 and 2009.

Scientific work for the Grand Banks stock area is planned and an updated stock assessment will be completed once scientific work is finalized, it was noted.

Meanwhile, an assessment of Banquereau Bank took place this past April, and it is expected the results will be used for any future TAC decision or changes to management measures.

Matthews, who said he spoke to Premier Dwight Ball, MP Judy Foote and officials with Clearwater over the weekend, pointed out the town would not be able to apply for a licence this time as it does not meet the requirements.

The mayor said he was looking forward to the meeting with LeBlanc.

“It gives us a good opportunity to put our case from Grand Bank’s point of view right to the minister,” he said.

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