Guy Johnstone, who operates the Michelle Rose Community Supported Fishery in Cowichan Bay, fears new DFO regulations could derail his business. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Guy Johnstone, who operates the Michelle Rose Community Supported Fishery in Cowichan Bay, fears new DFO regulations could derail his business. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

B.C. prawn fishers says sudden DFO change threatens their livelihood

Sale of frozen-at-sea prawns could now be made illegal

Guy Johnstone wants answers as to why his livelihood, and hundreds of others across B.C., are being threatened.

Johnstone is a fisherman in Cowichan Bay and operates the Michelle Rose Community Supported Fishery, which catches and sells prawns, salmon and octopus.

He said that, without any consultation or notice and just shortly before the beginning of this year’s spot prawn season, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada has made the sale of frozen-at-sea spot prawns potentially illegal, which could effectively stop the sale of all frozen spot-prawns to Canadian markets.

RELATED STORY: HERRING RUN NOW UNDERWAY IN PARKSVILLE QUALICUM BEACH REGION

“This will have a devastating impact on me and my [three-man] crew on the Michelle Rose, which is just the opposite of increasing local food security and makes no sense at all,” Johnstone said.

“Half of my business is selling prawns and that’s now up in the air. It’s not even a new regulation; DFO just decided to reinterpret the existing regulation so that we can’t freeze prawns on the boat anymore. We had a series of meetings with DFO in the 1980s and 1990s to fine tune the system, but apparently DFO has no corporate memory. We have offered to meet with DFO to discuss this, but we keep getting told that these were internal discussions within the department.”

In B.C., about 2,450 metric tonnes of spot prawns are harvested annually, with about 65 per cent coming from the waters between Vancouver Island and the Mainland.

Vancouver-based Skipper Otto Community Supported Fishery has launched a campaign to encourage British Columbians to sign an online petition for DFO to change the ruling, as well as to ask residents to send a letter to their member of parliament.

In a press release, Skipper Otto said DFO’s ruling on spot prawns adds insurmountable challenges to an already challenged industry.

The release said that, thrown into chaos by the COVID-19 pandemic, the global export markets for spot-prawns all but disappeared overnight and the price paid to harvesters in 2020 plummeted by more than 50 per cent from the previous year.

RELATED STORY: 3 MILLION POUNDS OF FLASH FROZEN, DELICIOUS PRAWNS SITTING IN B.C. COLD STORAGE

“Harvesters turned to and invested heavily in domestic and direct-to-consumer sales of flash-frozen spot prawns to help save their seasons and cover off their enormous debts,” Skipper Otto said.

“The stability of domestic sales was a game-changer across the industry. However, even that is in peril now.”

DFO’s objection to freezing spot prawns is in reference to a reinterpretation of the regulation requiring all harvested products to be readily available for measurement by enforcement officers on fishing boats.

The measurements are typically done while the prawns are still alive on the sorting tables and, up until now, if they were already frozen, the fishermen would be required to thaw the prawns so they could be measured.

But DFO has recently determined that frozen-at-sea spot prawns are no longer considered readily available for measurement, and are no longer allowed.

“DFO has decided that the three or four minutes that it would take to thaw the prawns is unreasonable,” Johnstone said.

“When we were first told of the changes in the interpretation of the regulation, we thought the people in DFO we were talking to didn’t understand what is going on. They have to be consistent with these rules. How am I supposed to know what I can and can’t do if they are not consistent? DFO has said they may, or may not, enforce the new regulation this year, and we’re still looking to have meetings with them.”

A statement from DFO said the government supports a cautious approach to fisheries management, one that prioritizes the health and conservation of stocks.

The statement said monitoring and enforcing size limits within the commercial prawn fishery are a critical part of this approach, as it helps ensure the prawns are being harvested sustainably.

“We are aware of the importance of the [frozen-at-sea] practice to some harvesters, particularly given the challenges industry faces with weakened international markets, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said.

“We want to assure commercial harvesters we take their concerns very seriously. We will work collaboratively with industry this season on these changes and ensure harvesters have the support they need now, while working towards a long-term solution. Our goal is, and has always been, to ensure the prawn fishery continues to be as sustainable, productive, and prosperous as possible.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. Photo: Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News
Interior Health opens up vaccine eligibility in Columbia Valley to 18 years or older

Only local residents can register and book appointments as COVID-19 case counts spike in the region

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

The Rec 9 and driving range are open at Bootleg Gap in Kimberley. Full course opens April 30.
Two Kimberley golf courses open for season

Purcell and Bootleg Gap are partially open today, Trickle Creek May 7

Kimberley is developing a policy on short term rentals. Air BnB screenshot.
Kimberley is developing a policy on short term rentals

The City of Kimberley is continuing the process of adopting a strategy… Continue reading

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Most Read