Indigenous Coalition Buys Ownership in Canada’s Largest Seafood Company


After months of conflict and intimidation by non-Indigenous commercial fishermen, Indigenous fishing communities in Canada celebrated a huge win in November when the Mi’kmaq First Nations coalition bought a 50% ownership stake in Clearwater Seafoods, the largest seafood company in Atlantic Canada. This case reviews the groundbreaking acquisition and asks students to discuss the potential for Indigenous coalitions to form similar partnerships in other industries and countries.


Learning Outcomes

Students should apply learning in strategic management and in diversity, equality, and inclusion to discuss how the Clearwater Seafoods acquisition might influence the relationship between industry and Indigenous communities going forward.

Harbor fishing boats unload at dock in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the Mi’kmaq First Nations coalition made a groundbreaking move in November by acquiring an ownership stake in the country’s largest seafood company.

Source: Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Issue

For 13,000 years, Indigenous peoples in Canada have successfully and sustainably fished the Atlantic, but for generations they have been notably absent from commercial profit in the seafood industry. Tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishermen have always been high, recently peaking in Nova Scotia. Indigenous fishermen have the right to fish, even in the off-season, for all manner of seafood to establish a “moderate livelihood.” This right was established by the Supreme Court in 1999 in what is known as the Marshall decision, but the term was never clearly defined, leaving a wide berth of interpretation for both sides and paving the way for high racial tensions that still exist today.

In November, the Mi’kmaq First Nations coalition (made up of participating communities from the Membertou and Miawpukek First Nations) partnered with Premium Brands Holdings Corporation to acquire Clearwater Seafoods, Canada’s largest wild seafood company. As 50% commercial owners of Clearwater, Mi’kmaq communities entered into the single largest investment in the seafood industry by any Indigenous group in Canada. Many other First Nation communities in the area, including the Paqtnkek, Pictou Landing, Potlotek, Sipekne’katik, and We’koqma’q, have expressed interest in joining the Membertou and Miawpukek in acquiring a stake in Clearwater.

Why Is It News?

The Clearwater transaction is valued at CAD 1 billion (USD 750 million), which includes Clearwater’s debts. The Mi’kmaq First Nations coalition will put up CAD 250 million for its share and will have full ownership of Clearwater’s eight offshore fishing licenses (allowing for the harvest of lobster, scallop, crab, and clam in a tract of ocean called LFA 41). The Mi’kmaq already owned two of these licenses from a September purchase that cost CAD 25 million.

The new partnership is expected to reach annual sales of over USD 1.3 billion. Chief Terry Paul of Membertou First Nations says that, although the management structure will stay the same, they hope the Mi’kmaq will be integrated into the company as everything from a “deckhand to potentially being the CEO.” Economists and scholars agree that Indigenous-led businesses lead to positive effects throughout society, as Indigenous people are more likely to reinvest their profits into the land and the people on it.

The acquisition is heralded as a positive business move for all concerned. Clearwater already has an infrastructure of global distribution and access to highly valued wild seafood products. Premium Brands brings expertise in product creation, plus positive customer relationships in Canada and the United States, and the First Nation coalition brings generations of knowledge about sustainable fishing and long-term goals to improve the wild catch seafood industry. Not only is the acquisition a positive step forward for equality and corporate social responsibility, but it quite simply may have been the smartest business move Clearwater could have made.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is this move so significant for both Indigenous groups and large companies?
  • Is there potential for similar Indigenous coalitions to make strides in other countries or industries?

This case was prepared for inclusion in SAGE Business Cases primarily as a basis for classroom discussion or self-study, and is not meant to illustrate either effective or ineffective management styles. Nothing herein shall be deemed to be an endorsement of any kind. This case is for scholarly, educational, or personal use only within your university, and cannot be forwarded outside the university or used for other commercial purposes.

2022 SAGE Publications, Ltd. All Rights Reserved

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