National Fisherman

Prawn jewel

Fisherman-owned Vancouver company flourishes with British Columbia's spot prawn fishery

By Rick Crosby

On Saturday, May 8, 2010, a row of white tents is set up on one jetty at Fisherman's Wharf near Vancouver's Granville Island. A group of seafood chefs stand out in their starch white uniforms in the growing crowd of visitors at British Columbia's fourth annual Spot Prawn Festival. The gathering is the brainchild of Vancouver prawn fisherman Steve Johansen, 43, and restaurateur Robert Clark, 47, who believe spot prawns are the poster child for sustainable fisheries. In the early 1990s spot prawns were relatively unknown to consumers in British Columbia.

"I remember Steve and I walking around Granville Island with a plate of prawns that we cooked, just giving out prawns," says Frank Keitsch, 44, who runs the 27-foot Organic Ocean One for Organic Ocean Seafood.

The spot prawn fishery has been active for 30 or 40 years off the B.C. coast. But in the 1990s, the Japanese market made the fishery lucrative for newcomers. In the beginning Johansen and Keitsch lost gear on snags and in rockslides.

"You go out there and set the gear, and it's 50-50 whether there are prawns in the area you're working," recounts Keitsch, who began fishing with his father on summer holidays.

Sometimes they'd set in 50 fathoms and get nothing; and then set in 70 fathoms, and boom — there were the prawns.

At 6:45 a.m., on June 22, six weeks after the Spot Prawn Festival, the Organic Ocean One departs Fisherman's Wharf. This is its 47th consecutive day fishing, and the crew is starting to feel it.

"Do we really have to go out?" Johansen jokes good-naturedly when he arrives at the dock.

Yes, they do. With the market teeming for sustainably harvested spot prawns they'd be crazy not to.

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