Scott Mahon unloads a fresh catch of wild spot prawns at Mad Dog Crabs in Duncan. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

Huge demand for spot prawns, limited supply for Cowichan

Most of the more than 200 boats harvesting spot prawns freeze their catch and ship it away.

The lineup outside Mad Dog Crabs on Canada Avenue began forming about an hour before the business opened on a recent Saturday morning.

Demand for wild spot prawns — considered to be the best in the world — is enormous and the Duncan seafood store will have trouble satisfying all its customers again this year.

“Popularity is soaring for what some consider B.C.’s jewel of the sea,” explains Katie Mahon, who along with her husband, Scott, owns Mad Dog Crabs.

“[But] consumers may be disappointed to learn that the majority of spot prawns never hit the plates of local seafood lovers.”

Mad Dog Crabs unloaded its first shipment of prawns on May 11 and customers eagerly snapped up the popular catch. More shipments will arrive on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between May 23 and the end of the month.

Mahon says 90 per cent of the prawns harvested along the B.C. coast are exported overseas. She says this is not a new trend and prawn harvesting has always been an export fishery. Most of the more than 200 boats harvesting spot prawns freeze their catch and ship it away.

Scott Mahon says it’s all about maximizing revenue, a marketing decision that all businesses have to consider in order to survive.

With China and Japan winding up in a bidding war for B.C. prawns, the price can go up $2 to $3 per pound, thereby increasing that boat’s haul by between $35,000 and $75,000.

“Therefore, fishermen are not willing to sell in the local live market and lose out on this chance,” Mahon says.

“Fishermen who want to support the local market are caught in a Catch-22,” he explains.

“Their deckhands get a share of the take. If the boat in the next berth is selling to export buyers and offering more money, the workers or subcontractors will jump ship.

“Also, this is the fisherman’s livelihood and therefore, like all of us, they want to make the most income they can for the limited two months they get to fish.”

Last year the season was just 32 days, so highest bidders are going to get the catch, a situation he says is understandable.

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