HALIFAX — The New Brunswick First Nation at the centre of a dispute over a lucrative clam fishing licence has released a list of its Indigenous partners in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, but the new information is unlikely to quell complaints about how the licence was awarded.
Chief Aaron Sock of the Elsipogtog First Nation issued a statement late Thursday saying the partners in the new Arctic surf clam venture include the Abegweit First Nation from P.E.I., and the Potlotek First Nation from Nova Scotia, both of which are Mi'kmaq bands.
As well, he said the partnership with Cape Breton's Premium Seafoods Group includes the Innu First Nation of Nutashkuan from Quebec and the Inuit of Nunatukavut in Labrador.
Together, their new consortium is called Five Nations Clam Company.
"We believe that this is a tremendous opportunity for these Indigenous communities to further increase their involvement in the fishery and we pledge our full commitment and co-operation to our partners in working towards this goal," Sock said in the statement.
Last week, the Newfoundland and Labrador government and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq chiefs said the Five Nations Clam Company did not have any Indigenous partners from Newfoundland and Labrador or Nova Scotia when Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc made the licence announcement on Feb. 21.
On Wednesday, LeBlanc rejected calls to reverse his decision, saying he wasn't surprised there was discontent among those whose proposals failed to win approval.
However, LeBlanc also confirmed that Five Nations only had "reserved spots" for other Indigenous groups when the decision was made.
The Elsipogtog First Nation, which sits just outside LeBlanc's federal riding, issued a statement on Wednesday saying it had signed memoranda of understanding with Indigenous communities from Quebec and the four Atlantic provinces — but the statement did not say when the agreements were signed.
Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne said the use of "reserved spots" doesn't meet the criteria for the federal government's original request for proposals, and he renewed his call for LeBlanc to rescind his decision.
Byrne is demanding a meeting with LeBlanc, and he said the anger over his federal colleague's actions is rising.
"I think the chorus of those voices will grow," he told reporters Thursday.
LeBlanc's decision to accept the use of Indigenous "placeholders" must be challenged, he said.
"While one First Nation from eastern New Brunswick had been part of the Five Nations Clam Company, it appears that the Five Nations Clam Company was actually the One Nation Clam Company, and that there were four placeholder positions," he said. "The evidence clearly shows that this was not done properly."
Byrne said Newfoundland and Labrador may soon be asking Ottawa to offer the province's Indigenous communities "placeholders positions" in Nova Scotia's lobster industry, New Brunswick's scallop fishery and Quebec's lucrative crab and shrimp fisheries.
The Arctic surf clam fishery generated $90 million in sales in 2016 and mainly supplies the Asian sushi and sashimi market.
The fishing grounds are located off Nova Scotia and eastern Newfoundland, and the current catch-limit is about 38,000 tonnes.
LeBlanc's decision ended a monopoly for Halifax-based industry giant Clearwater Seafoods Inc., which supports the initiative but is also calling for a review.
Clearwater, which must give up a quarter of the allowable catch, had submitted a proposal that included a partnership with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs.
The decision has spurred anger in Grand Bank, N.L., which has been home to Clearwater's main, year-round clam processing facility for 27 years. A separate plant in Glace Bay, N.S., also sorts and packages some product. The two operations employ 452 people.
—Follow @NovaMac on Twitter.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press