B.C.’s spot prawns are revered for their sweet and crispy deliciousness. But with this year’s season kicking off on May 17––and the third annual Steveston Spot Prawn and Seafood Celebration set to run until June 16––it’s easy to forget how these wild, fresh-catch treats arrive on your plate in the first place.

“It’s an intense time for all our spot prawn fishermen. They have to be totally prepared and ready to go at full speed as soon as the season starts,” says Katie Lindsay, spokesperson for the non-profit Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association, which represents 245 license holders plus the crews and support staff in a commercial fishery that’s worth up to $50 million a year in landed value.

And while each team’s prep is critical––nobody wants a boat failure during a 35-day season where everyone is working super-long days and time off is virtually impossible––there are no guarantees of success. “This is derby-style fishing so you need to catch as much as you can before the season closes. The first couple of days are crucial and it’s really important to get off to a good start,” says Lindsay.

Challenges galore

But while terrible weather, sudden equipment failures and an absence of prawns in some areas are challenges that can arise at any time from May 17 onwards, the West Coast’s well-seasoned fishermen are trained professionals used to dealing with anything that’s thrown at them. And for many, a wealth of family wisdom is the key to their success.

A large proportion of B.C.’s spot prawn fishermen can trace their provenance back through the generations, says Lindsay, giving them the inside track on favoured fishing grounds and the know-how to tackle tough situations during a highly competitive season. “There are quite a few families that go back three or four generations here––and that means a lot of local knowledge is being passed down.”

Spot prawn fisherman with his latest catch. Photo Credit: Tourism Richmond

Sustainability rules

Despite its deeply anchored history, B.C.’s spot prawn fishery has also moved with the times over the decades. A few years ago, almost all its catch was shipped overseas for consumption in Japan; now area restaurants and local seafood fans snap up the vast majority of product. At the same time, the industry has transformed into a model of sustainability––helping to maintain the species while also protecting the industry for the future.

Closely regulated and monitored, the season is tied to the lifecycle of the prawns. It runs in spring, when there are fewer females with eggs in the water. And any “berried” females (those with eggs) that are caught during the season are returned to the ocean to continue spawning. When the number of these females found in each trap reaches a predetermined level, the fishing area is closed. And when the number of these closed areas hits a certain threshold, Fisheries and Oceans Canada closes the season for the year.

Prawn fishery is closely regulated to ensure sustainability. Photo Credit: Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association.

On the dock

Lower Mainland seafood lovers don’t have to wait until the end of the season to dive into this year’s bounty, though. Fishermen and their families will be at the dock in Steveston Village daily throughout the spot prawn run, selling their catch from the backs of their lightly bobbling boats. It’s a unique opportunity to pick-up some of the freshest spot prawns you’re ever likely to find.

Buy the freshest spot prawns at Fisherman’s Wharf in Steveston Village. Photo Credit: Tourism Richmond.

But what’s the best way to prepare them? “They are very sweet and you can really taste the quality but they don’t need a lot of preparation,” says Lindsay. “For me, I just like to take the heads off and add them to slightly salted boiling water for about 30 seconds. A lot of people like to cook them in butter or garlic but I love to eat them a little raw like this.”

And that flavour can only be enhanced by meeting the hardworking fishermen face-to-face in Steveston. “I recommend going to the dock to meet the fishing families during the spot prawn season. There are very few industries where you can directly meet the people who have harvested your food for you––it’s a great opportunity to touch base with all that hard work.

Last Updated on May 15, 2024 by Tourism Richmond