Spot prawn season is back again for 2015. Over the next few weeks, this sustainable seafood option is available direct from local fisherman and retailers, and is making its way on to seasonal menus at restaurants across the lower mainland. The season kicked off at the False Creek Fishermen’s Wharf with the 9th annual Spot Prawn Festival on Sunday May 17. Several thousand people were in attendance to celebrate local fishers and enjoy this sustainable delicacy.
No matter how spot prawns are served, no one can deny they’re delicious. That’s why it’s important that we ensure the sustainability of this seafood delicacy for years to come. Often heralded as a model of sustainability, spot prawn stocks are carefully managed to ensure they do not become overfished and depleted.
In British Columbia approximately 2,500 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. These same waters are also home to delicate glass sponge reefs, which are easily damaged by the lowering of crab and prawn traps, as well as by sport fishing gear trolled along the bottom.
Fortunately, Vancouver Aquarium’s Howe Sound research team, together with other researchers and divers in the area, are working to identify and map the coordinates of the glass sponge reefs in Howe Sound to share with local fishers. So far nine areas have been identified to avoid including: Strait of Georgia off Galiano and the outer Gulf Islands, as well as Entrance Island, Parksville, Foreslope Hills, Passage and Defence Islands in Howe Sound, and Achilles, McCall and Halibut Banks. Scientists and conservationists are hoping to see this list expanded to include sponge reefs in the Howe Sound area as well.
“Glass sponge reefs provide critical living habitat for various fish and crustacean species, including threatened quillback and yelloweye rockfish,” says Dr. Jeff Marliave, vice president of marine science at the Vancouver Aquarium. “The vital ecological function of these glass sponge reefs is attested by the calculation from University of Alberta scientists that British Columbia’s glass sponge reefs consume at least 230 tonnes of bacteria every day.”
New regulations are in place that requires prawn-trap fishers to 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 fishers avoid the glass sponge reefs, and continue to harvest spot prawns sustainably.
For now, scientists, divers, fishers and Ocean Wise partners are working together alongside Fisheries and Oceans Canada to ensure not only the sustainability of the of the fishery, but this critical habitat as well. 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.
Learn more about Ocean Wise and spot prawn sustainability at: oceanwise.ca/seafood
For more information on glass sponge reef monitoring and what you, as a local diver can do, visit our glass reef webpage, generously funded by Mountain Equipment Coop.