Flash frozen prawns still sitting in cold storage. (BC Prawns image)

Flash frozen prawns still sitting in cold storage. (BC Prawns image)

3 million pounds of flash frozen, delicious prawns sitting in B.C. cold storage

Global demand for the B.C. specialty plummeted as the COVID-19 pandemic grew

About three million pounds of delicious spot prawns, flash frozen at sea and destined for restaurants in China and Japan, are still sitting in B.C. cold storage facilities.

The spot prawn exporters Black Press Media spoke to all said sales of frozen prawns are crawling this year compared to previous seasons. For some, last year at this time, product was sold out.

People in the industry aren’t surprised. Predictions made at the start of the year that international frozen sales would be unreliable proved correct.

Up-front payments to prawn fishers were around 40 per cent lower than usual in anticipation of depressed sales. Spot prawns are normally among B.C.’s top five most valuable fisheries.

China is B.C.’s largest spot prawn customer, and demand has been dramatically reduced.

“The fact that they had COVID-19 early means there’s been a lack of consumption [in restaurants]. You can’t suddenly recover the market. It’s going to take time for the market to unwind itself,” said Brad Mirau with Aero Trading in Vancouver, estimating that 70 to 80 per cent of their frozen prawn inventory would normally be sold by now.

Sellers are hunting for new buyers, and the process takes time.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s spot prawn fisheries lead Laurie Convey expects the volume harvested to be roughly similar to last year at 1,977 tonnes (3,954,000 lbs).

Prices have also been lower, especially for the medium to large prawns. The jumbo and extra-large sizes seem to have held their value, but it’s too early to conclude. The way the prawn sales operate means it will take months for the industry to be able to compare final prices to last year.

Fishermen are paid a portion of their share up front. Then as wholesalers offload the frozen goods they pay an adjustment to fishermen to match market prices. Contract terms vary between wholesalers, and from buyer to buyer.

Some sellers tried to diversify sales between live and frozen in June and July, to avoid the pile up of inventory. Live sales means local, fresh seafood, often purchased off the dock. While the official numbers aren’t in yet, BC Prawns director Miek Atkins says it was a great year for domestic sales, noting that it’s becoming more common to see B.C. prawns in grocery stores.

Ian Leitch with Sea Plus Foods in Powell River said they dabbled in live sales this year, and will double down on it next year. They’ve yet to sell 80 to 85 per cent of their frozen prawns.

If the inventory sticks around into next year, it could drive prices down even more for fishermen. Convey doesn’t expect there to be fewer fishermen, though. Prawn abundance is highly variable, and in her experience even if there’s leftover inventory all the fishing licences are active.

She added that from a DFO perspective, the season went well. With COVID-19 safety concerns, they were happy to be able to open the fishery at all. It was delayed by a month to give industry and DFO observers time to develop safe work procedures, and by all counts that aspect of things went well.

In the meantime, the wild-caught, flash frozen prawns are huddled in a storage facility waiting to be shipped … somewhere.

RELATED: Strong season but no market for B.C.’s spot prawn fishers

RELATED: Spot prawn season is open in B.C., and this year it’s staying local

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


fishing

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Overlooking Ucluelet’s Main Street shopping district, Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce executive director Laurie Filgiano cozies up with ‘Snowy’, the beloved decorating contest trophy. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Ucluelet’s Midnight Madness shopping spree gets a stiff shot of madness this weekend

“As a community, I think we will come out of this stronger.”

Josie Osborne was sworn into the Legislature virtually on Nov. 24. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne named minister of municipal affairs

The position was previously held by Selina Robinson, who is the province’s new finance minister

A sign at the entrance to Ty-Histanis asks visitors to stay out of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Westerly file photo)
Leaders from Tofino-Ucluelet region urge tourists to stay away for two weeks

The West Coast is pausing its winter tourist season temporarily due to rising COVID-19 numbers

This large Spruce was one of several trees that came crashing down around CARE’s animal shelter during Nov. 17’s windstorm. (CARE Network photo)
Funding and fosters needed after storm destroys fencing at Tofino-Ucluelet animal shelter

The damage forced an evacuation of the facility, which was sheltering five animals at the time.

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Most Read