The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has reversed the controversial decision to award 25 per cent of the lucrative Arctic surf clam quota to a company led by a New Brunswick First Nation and its industry partner.
In February, then fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc announced the department was handing a licence to Five Nations Clam Company, led by Elsipogtog First Nation and Premium Seafoods of Arichat, N.S.
The move was touted by the Trudeau government as an act of Indigenous reconciliation. But it also faced criticism from rival First Nations who bid on the quota, including one that launched a court challenge, and anger from Clearwater, the Nova Scotia seafood company that had held a monopoly on the fishery.
On Friday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced in a news release it will no longer issue the licence to Five Nations. The news release gave no reasons for the decision.
The department said it will launch a new bidding process next year and submissions will be evaluated by an "independent third party" that will make recommendations to DFO. It said it expects that whomever is chosen to receive the licence will begin fishing in 2020.
The Arctic surf clam is a bright red tongue-shaped seafood that is exported to Asia for sushi. The new First Nations quota — some 9,600 tonnes a year — was a prize worth tens of millions of dollars.
The decision to award it to Five Nations was challenged in Federal Court by a rival, Miawpukek First Nation based in Conne River, N.L.
The case revealed the confidential details of the more than half-dozen proposals the federal government received and how it evaluated each.
The records filed in court showed Five Nations was only 25 per cent Indigenous owned with the remainder in the hands of Premium Seafoods.
The band dropped its legal challenge in June.
During a cabinet shuffle last month, LeBlanc was replaced in the portfolio by Jonathan Wilkinson. LeBlanc is now Minister of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade.