Article and Photos by Cailyn Siider, Prawn harvester and TBuck's Community Development Director
Today at noon, spot prawn harvesters all over the B.C. coast will set their traps into the seasonal watery home where they’ll live for approximately 40 days - save for a once per day haul to shake out their prawny contents.
The start to any fishing season comes with a familiar set of emotions; worry, nervousness, impatience, and excitement for a new year of doing something we love. Young and old harvesters feel alike may relate to these feelings, amongst others. Unlike the 2021 season, however, spot prawn harvesters have one less worry on the run out to the fishing grounds. We don’t need to stress about the threat of being unable to supply our local communities with treasured spot prawns that many of us look forward to every spring.
Prior to the 2021 commercial prawn season, the fishing community learned that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) intended to effectively end the decades old practice of ‘tubbing’, the mechanism by which we freeze our spot prawn catch to then distribute to our families, neighbours, local restaurants and fish-mongers, as well as community-based markets. Despite alleging this change was to support conservation efforts, the DFO was unable to provide any meaningful information to support this claim. In fact, the spot prawn fishery is consistently praised as a leader in sustainable fishing, partly due to regulations implemented by the prawn fishing community.
As harvesters, the knowledge of these fisheries and the health of this species is central to our lives, we are experts with an innately vested interest in the continuation of a healthy and robust fishery. DFO needs to collaborate with us and not only trust, but rely on our gumboots of the deck expertise. Top down and arbitrary decision making seldom benefit the folks on the water, decisions need to come from the bottom up and truly centre the voices of those potentially most affected. This includes not just licence holders, but owner-operators, crew, shore-workers, folks who lease or fish communal licences, and everyone who supports their local fishing families.
There is no shorter and more resilient supply chain than the one from boat to buyer. Food is all about relationships; the relationship that harvesters have with the ocean, the relationships we have with our communities when we fill their freezers up with good food, the relationships folks have with not just their friends and family when cooking and eating all that good grub, but their own full bellies. This relationship that this decision threatened to sever is so much more than monetary, it’s community. This change would have particularly negatively impacted primarily small-scale fish harvesters, which is what the spot prawn fleet is entirely composed of.
We are relieved and grateful that we are able to continue to tub our beautiful catch, a small sounding act that represents so much. Thank you to everyone who signed a petition urging the DFO to reconsider this arbitrary ban. Thank you to everyone who sent a letter or email to their local Member of Parliament. Most of all, thank you to everyone who takes the time to walk down the docks, to listen to our stories, and to understand this complex but beautiful life. We can’t wait to share our catch with you.