$1B deal makes Mi'kmaq major players in lobster fishery

Indigenous fisherman Robert Syliboy on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S.

GLOOSCAP MUST BE SMILING. How could the Great Spirit of the Mi’kmaq not be when his people have so deftly played the great white money game to win big for themselves.

A coalition of Mi’kmaw First Nations are now the biggest player in the Atlantic lobster fishery. They got there by being smart businessmen. They partnered with Premium Brands of British Columbia to buy Halifax-based Clearwater Seafoods for one billion dollars. The purchase means the Clearwater monopoly of offshore lobster license passes to the Premium Brands / Mi’kmaq partnership.

Scientists estimate the offshore lobster fishery to be the breeding ground for all the inshore lobster fisheries, like the one in Saint Mary’s Bay, Nova Scotia where white fishers recently attacked Mi’kmaq fishers.

The Mi’kmaq coalition will put up $250 million for its share of the purchase and pay for it through a 30-year loan from the First Nations Finance Authority.

Mi’kmaq-owned partnership

The First Nations coalition will be led by the Membertou band in Cape Breton and Miawpukek in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Mi’kmaq will hold Clearwater’s Canadian fishing licences within a fully Mi’kmaq-owned partnership.

“This deal is a transformational moment for all participating communities,” says Membertou Chief Terry Paul. “We will now have access to the offshore fishery from an ownership position.”

“I feel excited about it,” said Paul. “We’re a player now. In order to be in business, you first have to play the game.

“You have to play to win, and we won.”

The deal is being recommended by Clearwater directors and would see shareholders paid $8.25 a share. That’s a 75 per cent premium above the price compared to the price before Clearwater announced it was for sale in March.

The sale is expected to close in the first half of 2021.

“I am very pleased to recommend this transaction. It represents great value for shareholders, leverages the expertise within the company while advancing reconciliation in Canada,” Colin MacDonald, chair of the board of directors of Clearwater, said in a statement.

Several other Nova Scotia bands have confirmed their intention to join Membertou and Miawpukek. They include Paqtnkek , Pictou Landing, Potlotek, Sipekne’katik and We’koqma’q.

Membertou said the purchase will not take away from the First Nation’s current revenues or financial position.

Continue to push for
moderate livelihood fishery

Paul said the Clearwater deal will not slow the push for a moderate livelihood fishery in Nova Scotia.

Membertou and several other bands have launched or intend to launch self-regulated lobster fisheries.

“Our investment in a commercial offshore fishery is completely separate from our commercial inshore and moderate livelihood fisheries,” Paul told CBC News.

“We’re still very incredibly committed to our other fisheries and to our communities on moderate livelihood. This deal does not impact the processes and the discussions taking place in other areas of the fishery.”

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