A glut of spot prawns stockpiled in Asia and export issues around the pandemic mean B.C. fishermen will get a lot less for their fresh catch or store it frozen until markets improve.
It isn’t immediately clear if retail prices for the local seafood delicacy will decline. A survey of some retailers show spot prawns are selling for between $20 and $39 a pound.
The owner of Finest at Sea, a Victoria-based seafood company with three prawning boats, said that while the catch has been bountiful this spring, the international markets to sell them have been “subdued.”
About 90 per cent of B.C.’s total catch is typically exported to Japan and China, but Bob Fraumeni said those countries either already have good supplies or only want the largest sizes.
Since spot prawns vary greatly in size, that leaves much of the catch to be sold to Victoria and Vancouver restaurants and grocery stores.
“Prices are in the toilet … that’s the quick answer,” Fraumeni said.
Vancouver fish buyers are paying about $5 wholesale a pound for “unfinished” spot prawns, down from about $16 a pound last year, he said.
The Chinese and Japanese markets are limited, but still open, said Fraumeni, but buyers there only want the largest sizes and are paying between $11 and $13 a frozen pound, which is down about 30 per cent from last year.
Japan, the largest market for B.C. spot prawns, heavily stockpiled for the 2020 Olympics, but the games were postponed to next year because of the pandemic, leaving the country with an oversupply.
Fraumeni said Monday that Finest at Sea was loading a container of spot prawns for Asia, but many of the small to medium-sized prawns will be stored frozen “rather than sell at a loss.”
In B.C., about 2,450 metric tonnes of spot prawns are harvested annually, with about 65% coming from the waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland.
Justin McNab of Nanaimo-based Hub City Fisheries, one of the largest buyers of seafood on the Island, told CHEK News the decline in Asian markets has deflated prawn prices.
“I’d say we’re probably about half of what the market was at last year,” he said.
The excess supply means prices could drop even further. “We don’t know what direction it’s going to go in,” said McNab.
B.C. spot prawns are a delicacy known for their sweet flavour and firm texture. They have white spots on their tail and white horizontal bars on the carapace.
They are the largest of the seven commercial species of shrimp found on the west coast. Some larger females exceed 23 centimetres in length.
The commercial prawn fishery is limited entry, with a maximum of 246 prawn licences. Each licence is allowed to fish up to 300 traps, with the restriction of hauling each trap once per day.
The commercial prawn and shrimp by trap fishery is one of the most valuable in the Pacific region, accounting for a landed value of $35.3 million in 2013, according to the latest data from the Pacific Prawns Fisherman’s Association.
When prawning season closes in the next week, many crews will switch to tuna fishing.
Fraumeni said fresh tuna is still “catching on” in North American markets even though the canned variety is a staple in many households.
The market for sable fish, sometimes called black cod, remains very strong. He said the company has shipped four containers of sable fish to Japan this spring.