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Indigenous groups major player in NL fishery, with federal government's financial backing

Indigenous groups in the province hold 60 groundfish licences; 51 inshore snow crab licences (plus one mid-shore crab licence once fished by the "union boat"); shares of northern shrimp that amount to 36 million/lbs in 2021; 21 communal commercial lobster licences; three commercial sea cucumber licences,/four temporary permits; as well as involvement in the tuna and offshore clam fisheries.

Baffin Fisheries, a 100% Inuit-owned company, recently ordered a $73.5-million offshore dragger, which will be Canada's largest fishing vessel with a capacity of 1,320 tonnes of turbot or 930 tonnes of shrimp

Newfoundland and Labrador is home to three distinct Indigenous groups: the Inuit, Innu, and the Mi'kmaq.

In Newfoundland, there are First Nation Bands like Conne River and the Qalipu, while Labrador has organizations like the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut government, and NunatuKavut Community Council.

Ottawa subsidizes Indigenous groups to purchase commercial of commercial quota, enterprises, and gear through the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy Program.

Questions have been raised whether such support has driven up the price of commercial fishing licences for non-indigenous fishermen, effectively blocking them from the industry.

Indigenous groups have a competitive advantage over the province's inshore fleet because they don't have to follow all of the same rules, including those involving the leasing of fishing vessels.



DFO says Indigenous groups hold 51 inshore snow crab licences in all fishing zones around the province.

The Conne River First Nation also purchased a mid-shore crab licence last year from a company/offshore cooperative headed by former FFAW executive Ches Cribb (and fished by the so-called "union boat") for $1 million, a fraction of its estimated value.

Nunatukuvut is said to own most inshore crab licences on the south Labrador coast.

An indigenous group in the province doesn't have to own a groundfish licence to buy a crab licence, DFO said, as all Indigenous groups hold communal commercial groundfish licences.


All told, indigenous shares of northern shrimp for 2021 work out to 36 million/lbs.

Indigenous shares of 2020/21 northern shrimp quotas

• Shrimp Fishing Area 4 (northern Labrador) — 37% (2,981 tonnes/6.6 million/lbs)

• Shrimp Fishing Area 5 (mid Labrador)— 52.9% (8,506 tonnes/18.7 million/lbs)

• Shrimp fishing Area 6 (southern Labrador to Twillingate) — 7.8% (743 tonnes/1.6 million/lbs)

Northern Indigenous interests also hold 26% of the northern shrimp quota (15,937 tonnes) held by the 17 offshore shrimp licences in Eastern Canada, which works out to 4,144 tonnes (9.1 million/lbs) in 2021.


DFO confirms Indigenous organizations in the province hold 60 licences for groundfish species such as cod.

DFO made it official earlier this year that the first 115,000 tonnes of northern cod will be reserved for the inshore sector/Indigenous groups, although Ottawa has yet to make a decision on sharing arrangements.

Indigenous groups have requested 25% of the overall northern cod quota.

it's possible Indigenous groups may be permitted to have their future shares of cod harvested by offshore factory-freezer draggers.


DFO confirms that Indigenous organizations currently hold four temporary sea cucumber permits in fishing zone 3Ps off Newfoundland's south coast, plus three commercial licences. DFO has said temporary permits will be made permanent in the fall of 2022.


DFO confirms that Indigenous groups in the NL region hold 21 communal commercial lobster licences.


As of August 2020, Conne River held 12 snow crab licences in fishing zone 3Ps off southern Newfoundland, which the Band fished at the time with 10 boats (owning six, and leasing four).

In recent years the First Nation also became involved in an offshore clam harvesting venture in partnership with the 13 Mi'kmiq banks of Nova Scotia, as well as the tuna and sea cucumber fisheries.

Conne River's fishing interests were outlined in an August 2020 letter from Conne River Chief Misel Joe to then-federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan.

The Chief requested that the offshore crab licence previously held by Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc. — a company with close ties to the FFAW — be reissued as a commercial communal licence.

The request was granted.

Ryan Cleary,


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