With the first-ever Steveston Spot Prawn and Seafood Celebration continuing until June 5, locals and visitors have been rediscovering Richmond’s delicious fresh-catch bounty. But behind the tasty Dine About restaurant specials and the glistening spot prawns available from the boats at Fisherman’s Wharf, there’s the deeply anchored tale of B.C.’s remarkable fishing industry.
Fishers have been operating on Canada’s West Coast for thousands of years. And from the late 19th-century onwards, the fishing sector here grew to become one of the region’s biggest economic powerhouses. During its peak, countless vessels, dozens of canneries and multiple generations of fishing families dotted the coastline–and Steveston Village was the centre of the action.
The industry’s salty backstory is colourfully showcased at Steveston’s must-visit National Historic Sites: the Britannia Shipyards and Gulf of Georgia Cannery. But it’s easy to forget that the local fishing sector is still very much alive and kicking here––and the inaugural Seafood Celebration is a great chance to meet the people behind the busy boats.
Frank Keitsch was hard at work preparing for this year’s spot prawn season when we caught up with him. A fisherman for four decades, his boats–including the venerable Black Heart and the new Dark Star–are the backbone of a 40-day prawning operation that sees him waking at 5 a.m. daily, heading out to open ocean and returning to the Wharf to sell his sought-after fresh catch to waiting seafood fans.
“The spot prawn season is very intense and high-pressured,” Keitsch says during a short break. “You’re out there every day in all weathers and of course you have to deal with tiredness and boat breakdowns. But I absolutely wouldn’t have my life any other way.”
Keitsch was hooked on fishing from the age of 12 when he began joining his father on the family boat. “I was out there with him for two months every summer when school was out. It was amazing and I quickly fell in love with the lifestyle,” he says. “The minute you untie the boat and head out into the solitude it’s just about you, the ocean and Mother Nature. Actually, I always say that Mother Nature is my boss.”
A tough-as-nails physical approach isn’t the only job requirement, he adds. Local fishers have also had to weather a netful of industry transformations over the years. And while Keitsch hasn’t agreed with every change, he says the sector is thankfully much more sustainable these days. “It used to be like the Wild West out there,” he says, adding that B.C.’s annual spot prawn season has grown to become a fishing industry success story with a huge following locally and internationally.
Keitsch isn’t the only local with a multigenerational connection to B.C.’s fishing industry. Laura Takasaki runs a successful Richmond-based event planning business. But during spot prawn season, it’s all hands on deck as she pitches in with Prawns on the Spot, a 23-year-old prawning operation spearheaded by her husband Troy Takasaki and his fishing partner Paul Kershaw.
Troy is a fifth-generation fisher whose great-great grandfather worked these waters in the 1860s. And Paul has been fishing here for around 50 years–after getting his start as a young deckhand on a boat operated by Troy’s father. “Prawns on the Spot is definitely a family affair,” says Laura Takasaki. “I’ll be on the boat at the Wharf selling the fresh-catch, and our daughters will also be helping out again this year.”
She might even head out on the water herself during the 2022 season. “These days, I’m a fair-weather fisherwoman, but it’s a pretty nice office out there,” she says, adding that the Seafood Celebration is the perfect opportunity for consumers to connect with B.C. fishers directly. “There’s no better time to try spot prawns – you’ll never get them any fresher. But I also really love chatting to everyone at the Wharf and offering people tips and ideas on how to cook their catch.”
Not that Takasaki has much opportunity to dine on the sweet treats herself. It’s full-on at the Wharf on most days during spot prawn season and there’s rarely time for a break. “We usually eat them later,” she says. “The trick is to not overcook them, and just add a little butter and garlic. You can also pop them in the freezer and eat them later like sashimi–just take the heads off and dip them in ginger and wasabi.”
For Kietsch, delicious B.C. seafood is still a big part of his own day-to-day diet. But while he’s always been a fan of those celebrated fresh-catch spot prawns, his favourite local fish feast is salmon. “It’s the backbone on the industry here and I eat a lot of it–usually pan-fried,” he says, before returning to his boat preparations and gearing up for yet another return to the water.
Last Updated on May 26, 2022 by Tourism Richmond