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'Christmas of the fishing season': It's time for spot prawns in B.C.

Spot prawns, with a season that often runs four to six weeks, have a “cult-like following”
Finest at Sea Food Market owner Bob Fraumeni with live spot prawns at the James Bay store near Fisherman's Wharf. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

It’s time to fire up the barbie: Spot prawn season has arrived.

“It’s the Christmas of the fishing season,” said Jennifer Gidora, operations manager at Finest At Sea Ocean Products in James Bay.

Prawns caught daily by the company’s vessel Nordic Spirit, under Capt. Alec Fraumeni, land at Fisherman’s Wharf and are delivered across the street to the store.

Spot prawns, with a season that often runs four to six weeks, have a “cult-like following,” Gidora said of the excitement surrounding the fishery.

Along with grilling them on a barbecue, Gidora recommends boiling them for one minute and serving them with salt and lemon.

This year, the commercial fishery opened May 15. ­Fisheries and Oceans Canada monitor catches to determine how long the season should last to ensure there are enough prawns remaining to reproduce.

Annual catches can be variable — 2020 saw 2,048 tonnes caught, up from 1,656 tonnes two years earlier.

Prices have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, with Victoria-area prices coming in a little lower than Vancouver’s, said Gidora, adding Finest At Sea’s location gives it an advantage, since its prawns arrive at the nearby wharf and don’t have to be transported far.

Wednesday’s price was $34 per pound for live prawns and $60 per found for fresh prawn tails.

In 2019, the wholesale value of prawns in the Pacific region was $63.5 million, up seven per cent from the previous year.

A distinctive white spot identifies the red, orange or pink adult prawns found from southern California up to Alaska, the largest of the seven commercial prawn species found in B.C. waters.

Most of the catch comes from the Strait of Georgia and the inside of Vancouver Island. Prawns are caught in rocky areas near shore at depths of 40 to 100 metres, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said.

The commercial trap fishery for prawns has a long history in B.C., starting in 1914. It allows for 245 licences.

Prawns are hermaphroditic, starting life as males and becoming female as they age. They are about 20 centimetres long and can live four years.

This year’s Spot Prawn ­Festival runs Saturday and ­Sunday at MacDonald Park in James Bay in conjunction with the “Can’t Touch This” rugby tournament. Hours are noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The ­tournament runs in the ­afternoons.

Along with rugby games, there will be vendors, food trucks, live music, a barbecue serving spot prawns and a pet spa for dogs, said Glenn Barlow, a key organizer.

The event is a fundraiser for the James Bay Athletic ­Association. There is no entrance fee.

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