A fresh catch of wild spot prawns is unloaded at Mad Dog Crabs in Duncan, B.C. (Warren Goulding file photo)

Strong season but no market for B.C.’s spot prawn fishers

Sector hopeful low prices will catch the eye of local prawn lovers

The COVID-19 pandemic has dampened an otherwise strong year for B.C.’s spot prawn fishers.

The fishery closed July 16 roughly one month later than usual after a delayed opening due to the pandemic. Fishers now are reporting strong yields for 2020, with the added benefit of slightly larger sizes thanks to the late harvest.

Normally this would be good news, but overseas markets, that account for about 90 per cent of B.C.’s catch, are not placing any new orders. Roughly 1.5-million pounds of frozen product from last year’s haul is still stockpiled for cancelled Chinese New Year events and the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

“To keep piling stuff into the freezer would be ludicrous,”Mike Atkins, executive director of the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association said.

READ MORE: Commercial prawn, shrimp season opening delayed on North Coast due to COVID-19

“It has the potential to hurt us for a few years to get rid of the backlog, but hopefully China and Japan open back up and get things moving along.”

Shrimp and prawns are one of B.C.’s top seafood exports worth $53.1 million in 2018, with China accounting for 51 per cent of sales and Japan at 22 per cent.

The massive surplus has cut the market value of frozen B.C. prawns in half. Producers are now seeking out new domestic markets to break even.

Atkins its hopeful B.C. restaurants and grocery stores can help absorb the inventory. 

“I know a lot of the fleet are exploring local opportunities that haven’t been explored before,” he said.

But the wildly varying retail prices will probably have to fall in line with actual landed values before the public will get excited about a local market, said Christina Burridge, executive director for the BC Seafood Alliance, a non-profit umbrella organization representing fisheries, processors, marketers and exporters.

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

“Some outlets are passing on a fair chunk of the lower price to consumers, while other outlets are preferring to keep the price steady because that’s what consumers expect,” Burridge said.

“People love spot prawns. What I think will happen is, as people realize there is significant supply for the domestic market the retail price will come down … and that makes them an attractive option to the farmed prawns from Asia.”

She added British Columbians’ preference for fresh prawns over frozen prawns might also relax as consumers rally behind B.C. fishers and locally-sourced food, as seen in other sectors during the pandemic.

The Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association is confident the industry will recover from the season.

“It’s going to be a tough year, but fishermen have seen that before, Atkins said. “Some guys are scratching to break even but I don’t think we’re going to see an influx of boats and licences for sale. It’s still a good fishery — it started in the early 1900s and it’s still really healthy. How many commercial fisheries in Canada can say that?”



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pretivm Resources reports fatality at Brucejack mine

The isolated incident occurred last Friday, and the employee passed away on Sunday in hospital

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Community outbreak of COVID-19 confirmed on Haida Gwaii

Contact tracing has confirmed a total of 13 cases, according to Northern Health

Burns Lake couple escapes the Econo Lodge Fire in time

Escapes unharmed but loses their belongings

Travelling nuns spark social media panic in Burns Lake

The six Catholic nuns with Alberta plates were seen driving around from Prince Rupert to Burns Lake

B.C. records 146 new COVID-19 cases through long weekend

More that 28 people tested positive for the virus each day since Friday

Canucks tame Minnesota Wild 4-3 to even NHL qualifying series

J.T. Miller leads Vancouver with goal and an assist

COVID-19 vaccine efforts provide hope but no silver bullet to stop pandemic: Tam

There are more than two dozen vaccines for COVID-19 in clinical trials around the world

Two people die in propane heated outdoor shower near Princeton

Couple was attending a long weekend gathering

Study shines light on what makes LGBTQ+ youth feel safe in a community

The study goes beyond looking at school or family supports

Alberta to require masks at schools this fall, but still no mandate in B.C.

B.C. students are also set to return to classrooms in September

B.C. to allow customers to buy cannabis online for in-store pickup at private shops

Age verification will still be required inside the store

30% of British Columbians would ‘wait and see’ before taking COVID vaccine: poll

Some are concerned about side effects, while others don’t think the virus is a big deal

Don’t leave your hand sanitizer in the sun and other tips to stay COVID safe this summer

Being mindful of staying outside and keeping hand sanitizer, sunscreen out of the sun recommended

Most Read