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

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

Nelson's Diana Morita Cole is the keynote speaker of the KDocsFF film festival. Photo: Submitted
Nelson author Diana Morita Cole to speak at film festival

She will share a virtual stage with actor George Takei

Some of the folks behind Angel Flight East Kootenay: Todd Weselake is a director, partner and pilot while Brent Bidston is the president and lead pilot of the not-for-profit. Pictured here with their older plane, they hope to get an upgrade for thanks to RDEK funding. (Image courtesy of Angel Flight East Kootenay)
Angel Flight secures RDEK funding for next five years

$100,000 will go to the not-for-profit each year, with the funds to be used to acquire a larger plane

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Most Read