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

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

Three million pounds of flash frozen, delicious prawns sitting in 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

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: Vancouver Island in a January spike while B.C. cases decrease

Island’s top doc Dr. Stanwick breaks down the Island’s rising numbers

Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas. (Dennis Dugas photo)
Port Hardy mayor talks two years in office, ready to move forward in 2021

Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas tackles a number of different topics in an interview with the Gazette.

Dex needs surgery after breaking his paw in the panic caused by an apartment fire. (Submitted)
Dog needs surgery after apartment fire injury

A fundraiser has been started to contribute towards veterinarian costs

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Shown is Quality Foods at 319 Island Highway in Parksville. The Island-based grocery chain announced on Jan. 25 it made a $2-per-hour pay premium, implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, permanent. (Mandy Moraes photo)
COVID-19: Quality Foods makes $2-per-hour employee pay premium permanent

Island-based grocery chain had extended increase twice in 2020

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP have arrested a prolific offender who is now facing more than 40 charges. (Black Press file photo)
‘Priority offender’ arrested in Cowichan Valley faces more than 40 charges

Tyler Elrix, 37, had a history of evading police; was ordered not to be in Vancouver Island

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Modelling of predicted transmission growth from the B117 COVID-19 variant in British Columbia. (Simon Fraser University)
COVID-19 variant predicted to cause ‘unmanageable’ case spike in B.C: report

SFU researchers predict a doubling of COVID-19 cases every two weeks if the variant spreads

Most Read