First Nations paying down Clearwater debt

The seven Atlantic Canadian First Nations that purchased the fishing licences of Clearwater Seafoods have refinanced their debt through the First Nation Finance Authority (FNFA).

The FNFA is a non-profit organization set up by the federal government in 2005 to provide financing, investment and advisory services to First Nations.

It lent half of the $500-million purchase price of Clearwater’s licences and fishing operations to the seven First Nations in 2021 (Membertou, Miawpukek, Paq’tnkek, Pictou Landing, Potlotek, Sipekne’katik and We’koqma’q). The other $250 million was provided by Premium Brands, which bought Clearwater’s processing and marketing arms for $500 million.

Chief Terry Paul of Membertou First Nation explained Tuesday that the FNFA has since loaned a further $100 million to the communities to pay down its debt to Premium Brands.

Paul said the priority right now is paying down on the debt associated with purchasing the company. The refinancing comes with an interest rate of 4.28 per cent, which is 2.92 per cent below prime bank rates.

“(The loan) helps us get cash flow from the company to our community a lot sooner,” said Paul.

“… The more we make the more we’re able to pay the debt. The sooner we can pay off the debt the better off we are.”

While he declined to say what other First Nations members of the coalition that purchased from Clearwater make annually from the deal, he said for Membertou it currently means about $3 million a year.

“It has completely transformed out community,” said Paul.

“We now have access to the offshore fishery from an ownership position. Imagine us having the largest holdings of shellfish licences and quotas in the country. It is a remarkable example of economic reconciliation.”

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