SeaChoice “Best Choice” Seafood Profile

B.C. Spot Prawns- Get ‘em while they’re fresh!

This profile was written and photographed by SeaChoice Program Coordinator Taina Uitto

You ponder your dinner for the evening as you casually stroll through the seafood aisle at your supermarket. You notice a tantalizing frozen bag of prawns on sale. Great! A little bit of garlic and butter and you think you have it! WAIT! You remember that you have “Canada’s Seafood Guide” in your pocket and, fortunately, decide to check where prawns stand in terms of sustainability.

OK- so the card asks you to consider the following three things:

  • What type of seafood is this?
  • Where was it fished or farmed?
  • How was it caught or farmed?

You check the bag of frozen prawns but the labelling doesn’t offer you much information. You can’t determine whether these prawns were farmed or wild caught. You don’t even find a species name; it simply reads “frozen prawns”. You do notice, however, that they are “a product of Thailand”. Having at least this information, you flip the card and, to your dismay, find the following entry on the “Avoid” list: “Shrimp/Prawn: Tiger, White (Int’l)”. Shoot- there goes dinner. WAIT (again)!

Wild, trap-caught, B.C. spot prawns are a SeaChoice “Best Choice” option based on the five sustainability criteria used for our fisheries assessments: inherent vulnerability to fishing pressure; status of wild stocks; nature and extent of discarded bycatch; effect of fishing practices on habitats and ecosystems; and effectiveness of the management regime.

There are seven commercial species of shrimp found in Canada’s west coast waters. All coldwater shrimp are fast-growing, short-lived, and have a high reproductive capacity, making these species less vulnerable to fishing pressure.

Spot prawn fishermen along the B.C. coast use baited traps on long lines attached to buoys. The amount of other species that inadvertently end up in these prawn traps as by-catch is relatively low. This gear type is also associated with a relatively low amount of habitat damage. “Moderate” conservation concerns arise only when prawn traps are set in habitats with organisms such as glass sponges and corals, which take years to recover from damage.

Because the B.C. fishery “appears fully-fished” according to the SeaChoice spot prawn assessment, the status of the stocks gets a “moderate” rating in this category. However, overall, the management of this species is “effective”; the trap prawn industry has implemented a number of measures to ensure long-term sustainability of the fishery.

The spot prawn industry is currently centred on exports; over 90% of the prawns caught in our waters end up in Japan. At the same time, the imported, unsustainably harvested, and arguably less-tasty prawns from Asia are readily available on the Canadian market. It seems counterintuitive to think of flying all those little prawns around the world, when given sufficient local demand, consumers could affect these trends and make this product more readily available here in Canada.

Prawn fisher Mike Larson shows off his catch. Prawns can be kept alive on the boat for up to two days. The fresh prawns that do not sell on the local market are added to the export supplies.

So in the end, you made the effort to buy fresh B.C. spot prawns from your seafood market. Your dinner is ready. The sweet and delicate taste of the prawns is complimented by the fresh, evocative smell of the sea. As you lick the last bits of garlic butter off your fingers, you feel very satisfied; not only did you support sustainable, local fisheries and not contribute to the deforestation and pollution associated with shrimp farming in Asia, you also had the chance to savour delicious, fresh seafood. You decide to tell others about this fortune, and further pass on the word about SeaChoice and sustainable fisheries.

While in season, fresh prawns can be bought at local seafood markets and fishermen’s wharfs, as well as some grocery stores and restaurants. The season lasts about 80 days starting in May. Frozen prawns are available year-round. Ask your seafood supplier to provide you with this SeaChoice “Best Choice” option.

For more information please contact the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association Phone: 604.523.1528 ~ ~ email: