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Finding room for the inshore in arctic surf clam fishery

January 16, 2018

Published in the December 2017 Edition of the Union Forum Magazine

Arctic surf clams are a valuable but little discussed fishery that takes place in waters stretching to the south of Newfoundland to the coast of Nova Scotia. Since the arctic surf clam fishery opened in the 1980s, the three licenses granted for the fishery have been held by Clearwater Seafoods, which is based out of Nova Scotia. With an absolute monopoly of that fishery, Clearwater was harvesting approximately 38,000 tons of clams per year at a value of approximately $60 million.

FFAW does not support corporate monopolies in any fishery. With that said, the arctic surf clam fishery does support valuable land-based jobs at a processing plant in Grand Bank, NL, where fellow FFAW members are employed nearly year round. “The surf clam fish plant is the economic driver of Grand Bank and surrounding communities,” says Charlie Baker, chair of the FFAW local at the plant and a member of the Union’s executive board. “This is good work and it shows the onshore value that can exist when adjacency and historical attachment are applied.”

However, the ongoing success of the processing plant is not dependent on the Clearwater monopoly. “Inshore owner-operator vessels are capable of being engaged in the arctic surf clam fishery,” says Keith Sullivan, President of FFAW. “In an area like Placentia Bay that has been devastated by the decline in crab and cod, surf clams would present an excellent economic opportunity for harvesters. As well, these harvesters would be landing the clams onshore, giving Clearwater the opportunity to work with inshore harvesters in this fishery to meet processing needs.”

When it was announced by DFO in September that a fourth arctic surf clam license would be issued, harvesters and the Union were initially excited. This license, it was said, would cover 25% of the total quota.

Harvesters and the Union were disappointed to learn that the owner-operator fleet was not eligible to apply new license would be reserved for a First Nations application.

“The new arctic surf clam license puts a spotlight on two very important federal government policies – First Nations reconciliation and rural economic sustainability,” Sullivan added. “In its first 2 years the Trudeau government has been very strong on rural economic sustainability in the form of progress on owner-operator and fleet separation enforcement. The federal government has also been very committed to reconciliation and has made some important steps.”

“There is room to pursue both policies simultaneously,” Sullivan added. “There is space in the surf clam fishery for owner-operator harvesters and First Nations participation. “