We Need Your Help to Save the Spot Prawn Season!

Sonia - March 12, 2021

March 17, 2021 update: We (and more importantly, our fishing families) have been so overwhelmed by the support our members have shown by signing our petition and calling their MPs! The politicians are paying attention, but our work isn’t over just yet. Here is an update from Sonia:

 

As you’ve probably heard, our much-loved BC spot prawn industry is under threat. A recent decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) threatens British Columbia’s $45 million commercial prawn industry and with it, the livelihoods of hundreds of families throughout the province. With no consultation or notice and just a few short months before the beginning of the 2021 spot prawn season, the DFO has made the sale of frozen-at-sea spot prawns illegal, effectively stopping the sale of all frozen spot-prawns to Canadian markets.   

Sign Our Petition! 

The wide-spread consequences of the spot prawn ruling include: 

  • The inability of BC spot prawn harvesters to make a living. Without global markets due to the pandemic nor the ability to sell prawns domestically, there is no financial sense in harvesting spot prawns. Over 600 families will have their livelihoods destroyed by this decision. 
  • Despite the growing demand for local food, Canadians will be unable to purchase and eat Canadian prawns. 
  • Local chefs and restauranteurs who are already struggling during the pandemic will be unable to offer spot prawns that are in high demand from their customers. 
  • Fishmongers, grocery stores, CSFs (Community Supported Fisheries) and other buyers will be hard hit by the loss of this high-demand product. 
  • The impact will ripple through fishing communities up and down the west coast that have invested heavily and depend intensely on the industry.  

There is no reason for this sudden re-interpretation of a fisheries regulation. 

So why is the DFO making this decision now? Recently, the DFO reinterpreted a regulation that states that all catches must be “readily available” for inspection. They suddenly claim that prawns frozen in seawater are not “readily available” for inspection.  Previously, DFO inspectors measured spot prawns as they were being harvested, and had not been encountering significant violations of catch guidelines to warrant this change of policy. According to James Lawson, President of the United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union and harvester from Heiltsuk First Nation, the sudden change of decision is extra baffling because thawing a tub of frozen prawns takes only 5 minutes, something legal advisors have said meets the definition of “readily available”. “Every boat out there has a deck hose. Almost every boat has a hot water kettle,” he said. “The answer is that simple.” 

Across the industry, many other seafood products are processed and frozen at sea including solid blocks that are less “readily available” for inspection than frozen spot prawns. 

Chaos for an already pandemic-stricken industry 

This ruling adds unsurmountable challenges to an already challenged industry. Thrown into chaos by the pandemic, the global export markets for spot prawns all but disappeared overnight and the price paid to harvesters in 2020 plummeted by over 50% from the previous year. Harvesters then turned to and invested heavily in domestic and direct-to-consumer sales of flash-frozen spot prawns to help save their seasons and cover their enormous debts. The stability of domestic sales was a game-changer across the industry. This ruling throws all that into peril. 

“The situation is extremely frustrating,” says Lawson. “For us multi-species fishermen, spot prawn harvest is by far our most premium product accounting for half of my gross earnings last year. If the federal government prohibits me from freezing prawns, the reality is I will lose my business. It makes no sense.” 

A blow for local food systems 

The DFO’s decision also undermines years of hard work to create fair local markets and to make Canadian seafood available to Canadians. Without access to frozen spot prawns, it will be challenging for Canadians to purchase spot prawns this year.  

“Canadians want access to Canadian food. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that our dependence on imported products presents a threat to our food security. Our federal and provincial governments have been working hard to help support small-scale food producers, especially during these uncertain times. Taking away harvesters’ right to sell prawns to Canadian consumers undermines all the progress we’ve made toward robust, secure and healthy local food systems,” notes Sonia Strobel, CEO of Skipper Otto Community Supported Fishery who works with three BC harvesters to supply prawns for their members. 

Canadian chefs and restaurateurs will also feel the impact of this decision. “For the past two decades, chefs have passionately had the backs of harvesters and consumers to successfully build the domestic spot pawn industry and advocate for supporting our local food friends and partners,” remarks Ned Bell, chef/partner at the Naramata Inn and founder of Chefs for Oceans. “Pulling the rug out on harvesters will be leaving holes on the menus of restaurants throughout the country. For everyone’s sake – chefs, restaurants, consumers, harvesters, communities and our environment, we sincerely hope that this decision will be reconsidered.”  

How can you help save spot prawn season? 

Skipper Otto Community Supported Fishery was founded to effect social change in the fishing industry with the help of our members and our broader community who share our vision for a better world. We would be nowhere without your support over the past 12 years, and whope you’ll take a moment to stand up for a cause that is so near and dear to our community. Please help us garner public support for reversing this challenging and senseless decision!  

  • Read more details and sign and share our petition here.  
  • Call your local Member of Parliament and tell them you won’t stand for this damaging decision or any sudden decision made without consultation.  
  • Tell others how this important issue will affect us all and ask them to sign the petition and call their MP.  
  • Share this story with any media contacts you may have.

The spot prawn season just a couple of months away, so there’s no time to waste. Every day that goes by, fishing families are forced to make tough decisions about whether to invest in their spot prawn season or not. Before you know it, it will be too late to save the season.  

 

Selected links to media coverage: 

 

 

Sonia - March 12, 2021


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We Need Your Help to Save the Spot Prawn Season!

Sonia - March 12, 2021

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