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

Traffic heading south on Highway 17 and looking to turn left onto Beacon Avenue wait for the light to turn Tuesday morning. A report finds the intersection is experiencing “failing levels of service” for certain movements during the morning peak hours as well as the afternoon peak hours. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Major Sidney intersection already deficient predicted to get worse

New report also finds area’s pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in need of improvement

This property, at 1980 Fairfield Place, is adjoined to Gonzales Hill Park and is the centre of community opposition and a B.C. Supreme Court case as owners are looking to build a single-family home on the lot. Jake Romphf/News Staff
Home construction near Victoria’s Gonzales Hill Park spurs legal battle

Gonzales Hill Preservation Society worried about impacts to the park’s wildlife, rare fauna, views

The artist rendered Sadie with a few more ribs and wrinkles than she had in real life, and with the fading of her paint she looks a little sad. But real-life Sadie was an energetic hunting dog, her owner Cliff Curtis said. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Dog sculpture at Glen Lake Park based off a happy hunting hound

Sadie the dog was not as old as the concrete art looks almost 20 years later

An employee at Sidney’s Thrifty Foods tested positive for COVID-19, the parent company Sobeys posted on its website Wednesday. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
COVID-19 case reported at Sidney grocery store

Thrifty Foods employee last worked at the store April 3

A man with a history of sexual offences was arrested after he followed and aggressively tried to talk to two young woman on the weekend. Black Press File Photo
Man convicted of sexual offences arrested after teens followed in Victoria

Women hid in a Quadra Village convenience store as man aggressively tried to get in

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Most of Canada’s current vaccine suppliers are already testing new versions against variants

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

One of the grand prizes for this year's Hometown Heroes Lottery includes a seaside home at SookePoint, $1.5 million, and an Audi Quattro. (Photo courtesy of Hometown Heroes)
Hometown Heroes Lottery features seaside home in Sooke

A stunning seaside home in Sooke could be yours for the price… Continue reading

City workers from Duncan were busy recently putting up street signs in both Hul’q’umi’num’ and English. (Submitted photo)
Hul’q’umi’num street signs installed in downtown Duncan

Partnership with Cowichan Tribes sees English street names twinned with Indigenous language

Most Read