(Lobs)essed with the sea, Clearwater Seafoods for 47 years

Posted on November 16, 2023 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments


An old photo of a Clearwater Seafoods location (photo credit: Clearwater Seafoods


From ocean to plate, Clearwater Seafoods has provided Atlantic Canadians with fresh delicacies from the sea for nearly 50 years. What started as a small retail operation has grown into one of the largest vertically-integrated seafood companies in North America. Now Indigenous-owned and proud of it, Clearwater supplies fresh seafood across the globe.

First catch

The beginning of Clearwater Seafoods dates back to 1976 when John Risley and Colin MacDonald began selling lobster from the back of a pick-up truck in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Soon after, they established a more permanent location along the Bedford highway by converting an old seafood restaurant. Over an 18-month period, they oversaw building renovations and expansions, making the space their own.

In 1979, Clearwater unveiled its Dryland Lobster Pound, the first in the world. The system was built to mimic a lobster’s natural environment and allowed the company to access fresh lobster throughout the year. This innovation transformed lobster harvesting from a seasonal activity into a year-round operation. For Clearwater, it was the first step toward becoming a global leader.


The Clearwater team showing long-time clients from Germany the company’s facilities (left) and signage (right) throughout Nova Scotia (photo credit: Clearwater Seafoods)


International waters

Throughout the 1970s, Risley and MacDonald travelled to Europe and Asia, networking and exploring international markets. Seeing huge potential for lobster in the U.K., they decided to open a Clearwater Seafoods location across the pond in 1981. The company continued to expand from there, acquiring two fisheries in Nova Scotia and launching branches in Newfoundland for processing clams and shrimp. In the ‘90s, Clearwater opened a location in the U.S. and became the first Canadian seafood company to have an office in China.

The company further expanded its global reach and product line over time and in 2002 became a publicly traded company.


A map showcasing the First Nations communities throughout N.S. and N.L. that make up the Mi’kmaq First Nations Coalition (photo credit: Clearwater Seafoods)


New waters

Clearwater Seafoods finalized an agreement in 2019 to protect jobs for over a dozen First Nations communities in N.S. and N.L. The 50-year partnership aimed to maintain jobs in the Arctic surf clam fishery, as well as create future meaningful employment opportunities. The following year, the organization entered into a partnership with Quin-Sea Fisheries to take over its shrimp processing plant in St. Anthony, N.L.

In 2021, Clearwater Seafoods was acquired by Premium Brands Holdings (an organization from B.C.) and Mi’kmaq First Nations Coalition (a group formed by various Indigenous communities in N.S. and N.L.). The transaction was the largest investment made by an Indigenous group in Canada, making the Coalition a global leader in the industry.


An overview of Clearwater Seafoods as a company (video credit: Clearwater Seafoods on YouTube)

Smooth sailing

With its own vessels, fishing quota and processing facilities, Clearwater Seafoods remains a leading harvester, processor and marketer of sustainably sourced seafood. Still based in Bedford, Nova Scotia, the organization supplies wild-caught lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams, crab and other seafood to customers worldwide. With over 1,900 employees working across its wholesale, retail and food services distribution channels, Clearwater has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the back of a pick-up truck.

Still sailing smoothly, 47 years later.

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