Meet Your Prawner, Ivan Askgaard

We met Ivan by chance when he decided to bring his boat over to Vancouver from Powell River to try to sell some of his frozen-at-sea spot prawns at the False Creek Fishermen’s Wharf. Naturally, when we saw him set up his sign, we just had to go meet him and find out if he would be a good fit for our CSF. And we’re excited to report he’s just our type of fisherman! Read on for our delightful, personal interview with Ivan and, when you see him in Vancouver, welcome him to our CSF!

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Ivan Askgaard, prawner

Q: How long have you been fishing?

A: I have about 40 fishing seasons under my belt. My brother-in-law got me into fishing when I became his deckhand fishing in the Fraser when I was 12 years old. I got a job halibut fishing when I got out of high school and stayed with it. Longline halibut (fished in Alaska) and black cod, shook herring, and trolled tuna off Los Angeles.

In the lean 80s, I picked up a diploma in Natural Gas and Oil Engineering from BCIT and worked for Shell in Alberta. But I had to come home and fish halibut on my holidays to keep up with bills. After 2 years I had enough (that was 1987) came back to fishing, and, having tried another kind of life, knew that fishing was what I was cut out for. I moved back to the coast, met Loretta, got my own little boat, quit the big boats, and we started from there and never looked back.

Shortly thereafter, I mortgaged the house and cashed in my RRSPs to build [our boat] the Raven Bay, which featured a few firsts for the prawns fishery – an Arneson Surface Piercing Drive, one of the first high speed prawn boats and recirculating spray brine system to keep the weight down while keeping the prawns live. These inovations have become quite widely adopted in the fishery since. I like innovating as much as I like fishing.

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Ivan’s custom built boat, Raven Bay

Q: What do you fish for?

A: My wife and I gillnetted salmon together for 4 years but when she decided she couldn’t leave the kids for that long, we sold the licence and concentrated on prawns. We sold prawns off the back of a pick-up, then out of a cube van and then moved to selling prawns at home in 2011 when we built a shop right in the back yard. We live on the ocean 365 days/year.

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Ivan and Loretta’s prawn shop in their backyard in Powell River.

Q: Where do you fish?

A: I have branched out into fishing anywhere within traveling distance of Vancouver Island where the fishing is best. It’s the nature of our competitive, short [spot prawn] fishery. West Coast, Mainland Inlets, Howe Sound, Strait of Georgia – I have fished them all and am not afraid of trying new areas.

Q: Who in your family is involved in the fishing business?

A: My step daughter, Jenny, fished several seasons with me and put herself through university doing so. Jenny has a BComm in marketing. Another deckhand also paid for his mechanical engineering degree on the back deck. Other deckhands have also put themselves through school or moved on to full-time careers in other industries, but their fishing experience has taught them some life lessons that I like to think will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

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Jenny fishing with her step-dad, Ivan.

Jenny was what we call a puker, got seasick real bad, but worked her way through it and when she was done, was top dog on the boat. We were running 500 traps at that time, and she was the one who called the shots on the back deckJenny got just about every job she was ever interviewed for when they found out she had actually been a West Coast Fisherman. It was very interesting to prospective employers. Other deckhands had the same experience.

Today, my wife and I work the store, and Jenny helps us with marketing.

Q: Why are you are interested in being a part of our CSF?

A: Like I said, I like innovating as much as I like fishing. CSFs are innovative. I feel fishemen have an obligation to supply their product to the public. Afterall, we depend on public support to have access to the resource. Secondly, most people can’t go and catch their own fish and are dependant upon commercial fishing to enjoy the variety of seafoods Canada is lucky enough to possess. So being a fisherman for me is a position of trust. I am fortunate enough to hold a fishing licence, but that comes with some public responsibility to provide fish also. 90% of our seafood is exported before the public even has an opportunity to buy it. That doesn’t sit well with me. Powell River customers are, by and large, seafood experts because they can catch their own fish right in front of town. Still, they support my business because they value the quality, the convenience and, I suppose, they value my family’s ability to make a living in our isolated community. Making my fish available to them is my side of the bargain.

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