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

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

A Kelowna clinic decided to immunize their patients in a drive-thru flu clinic earlier this month. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Interior Health anticipates increase in flu vaccinations this season

Some 300,000 doses of flu vaccine ready for distribution across Southern Interior

Voters in Saanich North and the Islands, here lining up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on the first day of advanced voting, are among the provincial leaders in getting in their votes early, with some 20 per cent (10,174) of eligible voters have already cast their ballots. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

The city is applying for two of the projects itself. File photo
Rossland city council throws support behind five infrastructure projects

Projects include new downtown washroom and $1-million Red Mountain race building

The Capitol Theatre has been transformed into a courtroom for the trial of Const. Jason Tait that started on Sept. 28 and continues. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Defence begins presenting evidence in Nelson jury trial of RCMP officer

Const. Jason Tait is charged with manslaughter after a Castlegar incident in 2015

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Most Read