Spot Prawn Market Struggles
The spot prawn market in British Columbia is facing difficulties as a result of an oversupply of prawns and export issues caused by the ongoing pandemic. This has led to a decline in prices for fresh spot prawns, prompting fishermen to either accept lower prices for their catch or store it frozen until market conditions improve.
Impact on Retail Prices
It remains uncertain whether these market changes will result in a decline in retail prices for spot prawns. A survey of retailers indicates that spot prawns are currently being sold for prices ranging from $20 to $39 per pound.
International Market Challenges
The majority of British Columbia’s spot prawn catch, approximately 90%, is typically exported to Japan and China. However, this year these markets have been subdued due to either sufficient existing supplies or a preference for larger-sized prawns. This leaves a significant portion of the catch to be sold within Victoria and Vancouver, primarily to local restaurants and grocery stores.
Decrease in Prices
The decline in international demand has had a significant impact on prices. Wholesale buyers in Vancouver are now paying around $5 per pound for “unfinished” spot prawns, a considerable decrease from the $16 per pound seen last year. Buyers in China and Japan, while still open to the market, are only interested in the largest sizes and are paying between $11 and $13 per frozen pound, which represents a 30% decrease from last year.
Stockpiling and Freezing
The postponement of the 2020 Olympics in Japan due to the pandemic resulted in an oversupply of spot prawns in the country, further exacerbating the market challenges. As a result, some spot prawns are being stored frozen rather than being sold at a loss. For example, Finest at Sea, a seafood company in Victoria, is freezing many of the small to medium-sized prawns for later sale.
Potential Price Drop
With the excess supply of spot prawns in the market, there is a possibility of further price drops. The direction of the market remains uncertain, and industry experts are closely monitoring the situation.
The Significance of B.C. Spot Prawns
B.C. spot prawns are highly regarded for their sweet flavor and firm texture, making them a prized delicacy. These prawns are distinguishable by the white spots on their tails and the white horizontal bars on their carapaces. They are the largest among the seven commercial species of shrimp found on the west coast, with some larger females exceeding 23 centimeters in length.
Commercial Prawn Fishery and Value
The commercial spot prawn fishery in B.C. operates under a limited entry system, with a maximum of 246 prawn licenses. Each license holder is allowed to use up to 300 traps, with the requirement of hauling each trap once per day. This fishery is highly valuable, contributing to a landed value of $35.3 million in 2013, according to the Pacific Prawns Fisherman’s Association.
Market Shifts and Alternative Fishing
As the prawning season nears its end, many fishing crews are shifting their focus to tuna fishing. Fresh tuna is still gaining popularity in North American markets, despite canned tuna being a staple in many households. The market for sablefish, also known as black cod, remains strong. Companies have been exporting sablefish to Japan, with four containers being shipped this spring alone.