December 21st, 2021
Letter Regarding the Reinterpretation of Prawn Harvesting Regulations
Dear Minister Murray,
We are writing to you regarding the recently announced reinterpretation of Prawn Harvesting Regulations in the Pacific. British Columbian prawn harvesters are deeply concerned about the viability of their harvest if these proposed changes are implemented. We are calling on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to withdraw the proposed changes and work with local harvesters and license holders to ensure that this sustainable industry can be maintained for years to come.
On December 7th, 2021, a letter to Prawn License holders sent by DFO highlighted a new set of regulations regarding the need for prawn containers to be no more than 8oz. and transparent. These new policies were created without meaningful consultation from impacted harvesters. Prawn harvesters were only given twentyone days to provide feedback before the December 28th, 2021, deadline. Coastal communities and prawn harvesters have not been given a meaningful answer as to why these changes needed to be implemented. These communities deserve a detailed and evidence-based explanation.
The proposed changes will not help to improve conservation efforts. DFO’s British Columbia Spot Prawn Spawner Index has been proven to work as an effective conservation tool. Under the current guidelines, DFO has only seen an average of two violations of undersized prawn regulations each year, and no violations have been recorded in the last two years by Conservation and Protection Officers. Harvesters have shown that prawn frozen in the standard 24 oz. containers are readily available for inspection and only take a few minutes to defrost. Decreasing the size of containers will not have a significant impact on inspection times or efficiency.
This change will however increase plastic use by requiring harvesters to use more containers, increase fuel consumption and transportation costs, and threaten the livelihoods of families who rely on the prawn harvest. In a time when Canadians are trying to tackle the climate emergency and reduce plastic waste, these changes will cause more fuel to be burned and result in a threefold increase in plastic waste.
Earlier this year, prawn harvesters were shocked to learn of a last-minute reinterpretation of the prawn harvesting regulations, which would have prevented them from freezing their catch at sea. Without any consultation, they were being asked to change a practice that had been carried out successfully for over fifty years. After pressure from harvesters and a study from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, these changes were suspended for the 2021 season. However, DFO has not responded to the committee’s letter outlining its concerns. This is a troubling pattern with DFO as they have provided limited notice to affected harvesters with no explanation.
British Columbia’s spot prawn industry represents over $45 million each year for First Nations and coastal communities. These proposals threaten the long-term viability of this important resource. British Columbia Prawn has been recognized as a “sustainable” choice by Ocean Wise and a “Good Alternative” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. DFO should be looking for ways to support prawn harvesters instead of introducing unnecessary regulatory changes.
Minister Murray, we urge your department to withdraw the proposed changes for the 2022 harvest immediately. DFO must put an end to their practice of developing policies for the prawn industry without consulting key stakeholders.
We ask that you work with them to develop solutions that protect our ecosystems and this vital industry.
Lisa Marie Barron Member of Parliament, Nanaimo-Ladysmith, NDP Critic for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coastguard
Gord Johns Member of Parliament, Courtenay-Alberni, NDP Deputy Critic for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coastguard