It’s one of our favourite times of the year: spot prawn season! Until the middle of June, we can buy these plump, sustainable prawns fresh off the boats, and we love them. Which is why the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise™ program is proactively working with the fishing industry and marine scientists to help protect delicate glass sponge bioherms frequented by the crustaceans, and by other fish and invertebrates, as nursery habitat in Howe Sound.
Glass sponge bioherms are reefs of live sponge growing atop layers of dead sponge structure. Prior to the discovery of the bioherms in Hecate Strait in 1987, these sponge reef structures were thought to have gone extinct more than 60 million years ago. Unfortunately, the delicate sponges are easily damaged by lowering of crab and prawn traps, as well as by sport fishing gear trolled along the ocean bottom. In April, Fisheries and Oceans Canada asked commercial fishermen to voluntarily avoid nine reefs in the Strait of Georgia, but sponge reefs in Howe Sound were not included in the list of areas to be avoided.
Vancouver Aquarium’s Howe Sound research team, together with other researchers and divers in the area, is working to identify and map the coordinates of the glass sponge reefs in the area. The Aquarium’s Ocean Wise team will help raise awareness of the need for care, and help distribute and share the location of sensitive areas with commercial and sport fishers in Howe Sound.
Steve Johansen, of Ocean Wise partner Organic Ocean, says it makes sense for industry to work together with scientists and local conservation groups. He points out that spot prawns are celebrated each year because it’s a terrific model for a sustainable fishery. The stocks are carefully managed to ensure that they remain available to enjoy for many years to come. The same goes for their habitat. Effective this year as a condition of licence, prawn-trap fishers must have a GPS-based monitoring system on board that records the vessel location every 15 minutes and records when a fisher sets and hauls in gear. The technology can help them avoid the glass sponge reefs, and continue to harvest spot prawns sustainably.
In B.C., approximately 2,450 metric tonnes of wild B.C. spot prawns are harvested annually, with about 65 per cent of the harvest coming from the waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland. They are available live during the harvest season, which began May 8, and will last anywhere from six to eight weeks.
For more information about spot prawns and other sustainable seafood choices, visit oceanwise.ca. Ocean Wise makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices that ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come. The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is the Vancouver Aquarium’s assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice.