Spot Prawns

The fishery

BC Spot Prawns are a true West Coast treasure. Known for their sweet flavour and quality, Spot Prawn are celebrated both internationally and domestically as one of BC’s most popular shellfish products. Once almost entirely reliant on the Japanese market, the BC Spot Prawn sector has diversified its market channels and enjoys a high profile in markets around the world.

The BC Spot Prawn fishery is managed by the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association (PPFA). The PPFA represents the licence holders, crews, and wholesalers involved in the Spot Prawn industry. Working collaboratively with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the PPFA works on scientific research, stock assessment surveys, and fisheries management. The members of this Association are dedicated to promoting and harvesting high-quality spot prawns to be enjoyed worldwide.

About

Spot Prawns are the largest of the seven shrimp species found in BC waters. Spot Prawns are bright red to reddish-brown in colour, with distinct white spots on their tails, and white lines on their upper shell.  Spot Prawns are a short-lived and complex species with a 4-year life cycle. Spot prawns are called protandrous hermaphrodites because they start their lives as males, then transition into females. They are male until they reach maturity at around two years. The males will reproduce once and then gradually (over about 8 months) transform into females during their third year. In their third year, females will reproduce and carry eggs before the end of their life cycle.

The harvest

Spot Prawns are harvested using trap gear. Baited traps are snapped onto a ground line and set along the ocean floor. Each line has 50 traps with a buoy attached to locate the line. These traps are specifically designed to reduce the by-catch of undersized prawns – with small enough holes to allow escapement. Prawn traps are also designed to prevent the trap from ghost fishing if it is lost on the ocean floor. The traps have rot cords, which allow the trap to open freely after the cord disintegrates.

During the commercial season, each licence holder can only harvest a maximum of 300 traps per day between the hours of 7 am and 7 pm. Fish harvesters are required to sort their catch as each trap comes on board and to release spawning female prawns (those carrying eggs) and undersized prawns immediately before the next trap is recovered. Any prawns under the minimum size of 33 mm (1.3 inches), as measured from the eye socket to the end of the carapace, must be returned to the ocean live. Any non-target species – such as other species of shrimp, small finfish, and crab – incidentally caught in the prawn fishery are also returned to the ocean live. There are some areas along the coast of BC that are closed to prawn fishing and other bottom contact fisheries to ensure the protection of unique benthic ecosystems such as coral and sponge reefs.

Learn more about harvesting using traps

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Sustainability

The commercial fishery is based on the complex lifecycle of Spot Prawns. The season is only 30 to 45 days long. Berried (with eggs) female prawns are the most prominent during the Winter months. For this reason, the season takes place during the late Spring, which is the new lifecycle for Spot Prawns. During the season, a third-party company, JO Thomas, supports the management of the fishery through At-Sea Observation. At-Sea observers will randomly inspect fishing vessels while they are harvesting. They will inspect prawn sizes, incidental catch, gear compliance, and fishing locations. This ensures that Spot Prawn harvesters are diligently following the management measures that the PPFA has put in place to ensure sustainability.

At-Sea Observers will also determine local area closures during the commercial season. When the number of berried females caught per trap reaches a certain level, the local area will close, and harvesters must find a new place to fish for the rest of the season. As more local areas progressively close during the season, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) determines a point where the Commercial Spot Prawn fishery is closed for the season. The season starts and end date is all based around protecting spawning female prawns to ensure the stock is well managed. The vessel master is required to have a DFO approved catch validation and harvest Logbook that has been assigned to each Spot Prawn licence holder. All Spot Prawn vessel masters are responsible for the provision and maintenance of an accurate record of daily harvest operations recording date, time, catch, and fishing location. The harvest Logbook must be submitted to the fisheries management agency at the end of each fishing season.

When

The highly anticipated commercial Spot Prawn season typically lasts six to eight weeks. The commercial season opens in the Spring to allow for increased growth of the prawns before harvest. The season typically opens in early May and ends mid to late June. Spring is a new season and lifecycle for Spot Prawns, so 1- and 2-year-old male prawns are the most prominent. Therefore, the commercial Prawn season occurs during this period to protect spawning female prawns. The season starts and end dates are based on the complex lifecycle of Spot Prawns.

When

The highly anticipated commercial Spot Prawn season typically lasts six to eight weeks. The commercial season opens in the Spring to allow for increased growth of the prawns before harvest. The season typically opens in early May and ends mid to late June. Spring is a new season and lifecycle for Spot Prawns, so 1- and 2-year-old male prawns are the most prominent. Therefore, the commercial Prawn season occurs during this period to protect spawning female prawns. The season starts and end dates are based on the complex lifecycle of Spot Prawns.

Where

Spot Prawns are found along the entire coast of BC, but the majority of prawns are harvested from the waters between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. This spot prawn hotspot is in the Strait of Georgia and associated inlets.

During the commercial season, vessels will travel as far North as the BC-Alaska border to harvest spot prawns. Typically, the vessels that fish on the North and Central coast tend to focus on frozen-at-sea Spot Prawns. Whereas vessels that harvest in the Strait of Georgia will focus on live dockside sales due to its proximity to processors and markets for live and fresh product.

The market

Spot Prawn season has become one of Canada’s most celebrated food events of the year. The popularity of Spot Prawns in the local Vancouver market can be attributed to the Spot Prawn Festival co-founded by Chef Robert Clark and Captain Steve Johansen. Hundreds of individuals will wait in line to purchase live spot prawns that were freshly harvested that day. Wholesalers will also ship frozen-at-sea prawns all over the world. For more information on Spot Prawns, head to www.bcprawns.ca