Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says he can’t disclose the reason for reversing an arctic surf clam licence award due to commercial confidentiality.
On Friday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced a controversial fourth licence for the arctic surf clam fishery would not be issued, after conversations with the Five Nations Clam Company.
Wilkinson and provincial Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne held a brief news conference on Tuesday morning, where Wilkinson was grilled over the reversal — which was announced over a month after the decision was made.
“The decision was made earlier in July and was communicated with the proponent in July. As you would appreciate, there were a number of things happening in July, including the change in terms of the minister,” he said.
“So, the decision was taken that we would make the announcement as soon as the new minister was in place. As soon as I was in place, I made the announcement.”
But, Wilkinson did not make the announcement as soon as he was in place.
Speaking to The Telegram on July 19 – the day after Wilkinson took over as fisheries minister from Dominic LeBlanc — Wilkinson said the decision on the license award was to “move forward.”
Wilkinson says he simply misspoke when he gave the interview — though no efforts were made by DFO to correct the story.
“If I said that, I may have misspoken. The process is going to move forward,” he said.
“What I said, and certainly what I intended to say, was that government remains committed to the objective of the program, which is indigenous reconciliation.”
The reversal of the lucrative surf clam licence has nothing to do with the federal ethics commissioner’s investigation into LeBlanc’s alleged ties to Premium Seafoods — the industry partner of Five Nations Clam Company.
The Five Nations Clam Company was comprised of Premium Seafoods in partnership with the Elsipogtog First Nation of New Brunswick, Nunatukavut Community Council of Labrador, Abegweit First Nation from P.E.I., the Innu First Nation of Nutashkuan from Quebec, and the Potlotek First Nation from Nova Scotia.
Now, the plan is for government to hire a yet-to-be-named third party company to prepare for another expression on interest for the license next year. The plan is to have another license awarded to another company by 2020.
Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews isn’t ready to celebrate the reversal just yet.
Speaking to The Southern Gazette, Matthews still has concerns about a future licence award and what it could mean for Grand Bank.
“There’s nothing to celebrate in my opinion, not one thing to celebrate we haven’t won anything and I’m certainly not impressed by the decision, there has been no change of heart by DFO or the federal minister,” said Matthews.
“There’s been no policy change, no strategy change, the only thing that’s changed…is the company they awarded it to probably couldn’t get the financial resources together to pursue the Arctic Surf Clam fishery, it’s not their decision.”
Wilkinson would not comment on whether or not Five Nations Clam Company would have been able to perform the license.
Fish, Food, and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) president Keith Sullivan says he had a positive first meeting with Wilkinson late on Tuesday. He says what Matthews says makes sense, but he’s focused on ensuring the new federal minister is up-to-speed on issues facing the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Obviously, this is an opportunity for us to talk about the value of that surf clam and where we go from there,” said Sullivan.
“But we certainly have a lot to do. We expressed that we have an opportunity to make things right.”
With files from Colin Farrell, The Southern Gazette