Spot prawns fishing is a multimillion-dollar industry in B.C. (Black Press Media file photo)

Spot prawn season is open in B.C., and this year it’s staying local

The usual export plan is off because of COVID-19, so fishermen are hoping to sell fresh, local

Vancouverites stood in long lines to buy ocean fresh spot prawns last week, but on Vancouver Island, fishermen aren’t holding their breath for a great season.

Last spring, the harvest landed an estimated $48.8 million — within the top five most valuable fisheries in B.C. — but this year export markets just aren’t biting.

“A good portion is exported to Japan, and they aren’t buying this year because they still have inventory from last year. And then there’s COVID-19, so restaurants all over the world are not open,” said seafood buyer Arlo Kueber, part-owner of Scarlet Point Seafoods in Port Hardy.

The entire provincial coast is home to the tasty prawns, but they favour deep inlets such as the Quatsino Sound in northwest Vancouver Island, and the Broughton Archipelago between Vancouver Island and the coastal mainland.

The season was delayed at the request of the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association in the hope that given time, the local markets would reopen. Fresh local sales may be the lead revenue generator for fishermen this year. Commercial prawn fishing opened June 4, when normally it would start in May.

Many fishermen are doing private sales this year, to compensate for a slow export market, Kueber said. Scarlet Point expects to be selling fresh ocean prawns for $20 a tub by next week, once the boats return.

All prawns start out as male, and become female by the end of their life cycle. Laurie Convey is in charge of prawn fisheries management for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and her job is to make sure the prawn harvest is sustainable.

In this regard, “the males don’t count,” she said. When Fisheries and Oceans observers board boats to take samples of the catch, they’re counting females. They have to make sure there are enough mature females left at the end of the commercial season to repopulate.

Finally, when it’s time to eat, Convey loves them boiled — just until they float — and doused in wasabi mayo.

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