Prawning season for commerical fishers opened at 12 pm on Thursday, May 12. According to Ian Leitch, owner and manager of Sea Plus Foods, his first night at the prawn plant on Thunder Bay Street was quite successful.
“The volume may have increased a little over the last year,” said Leitch, “but the general consensus I’ve got from the [fishers] is that the volume is down.”
Steve Richards, executive director of the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association, said that while it is difficult to tell how the season will turn out, the industry is optimistic.
“We’re hoping it will either meet or exceed last year’s,” said Richards. “Last year’s economic value was approximately $29 million of landed value of product, and that translates into a wholesale value of about $50 million.”
The prawn fishery, according to Richards, is a significant economic contributor to the BC economy.
“A lot of fishermen, their families and crew depend on this,” he said.
Leitch said commercial prawning is also very important to the Powell River region.
“I employ 50 youth or students here at the shop,” said Leitch. “I’ve also got a fleet of 30 boats that have crews. All of that money is going to stay within the community and be spent here.”
Most of Leitch’s market demand is from Japan and China for high-quality, sashimi-grade prawns.
“We freeze them onboard the vessel or here at the prawn shop,” he said. “We put them in 40-foot, oceangoing freezer containers and they’re shipped over by freighter.”
The voyage to Japan takes about seven to eight days, according to Leitch, and nine to 12 days for China, depending on the port.
“As of right now, we’re having issues with the Chinese market,” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s political or whether it’s clerical. The preservative we use on the prawns contains sodium metabisulphite, which is an additive the People’s Republic of China has not allowed.”
According to Leitch, the season is open-ended and managed by a spawner index determined by Department of Fisheries and Oceans. In 2014 and 2015, the spawner index was 44 and 45 days.