On Monday, May 3, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans began an emergency study of the Frozen at Sea Spot Prawns issue which has now been a threat to food security and livelihoods for months.
This study was the result of the pressure built following two months of campaigns led by a number of commercial prawn-affiliated organizations — including UFAWU-Unifor.
Both UFAWU-Unifor President James Lawson and UFAWU-Unifor Business Agent Emily Orr contributed testimony as witnesses on the prawn tubbing issue, along with Jim McIsaac of the B.C. Covid Active Fishermen’s Committee and Michael Atkins of the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association.
The meeting began with opening statements from each witness before entering into a multi-hour question period. Committee members posed questions ranging from the detailed logistics of freezing prawns at sea to larger topics such as food security in B.C.
“This proposed ban is not about sustainability. It is not working with fishermen to enable the continued prosperity of us or those who rely on or enjoy the product. It is a detriment to food security,” explained Lawson in his opening statement.
Lawson also broke down the importance of direct-to-customer sales for harvesters.
“[Local seafood] is a great success story,” said Lawson. “It is economic prosperity, it is food security, it humanizes us and makes us proud to be able to provide for people we know — giving a visible attachment to our labour.”
Among a number of topics discussed was the growing importance of local prawns to B.C.’s seafood culture.
“Prawns in B.C., dare I say it, are becoming almost like lobster is to the East Coast,” Orr said. “There is a tremendous growing and existing fanbase for access to our local sustainable catch of prawns.”
“Removing the accessibility of the public to purchase seafood from vessels is an undermining of the relationship between harvester and community,” Orr added later in the meeting.
In response to the testimony provided by witnesses, many committee members voiced their clear confusion in regard to DFO’s choices.
“I, like the rest of the members on this committee, am baffled as to what the objective is here,” said Liberal MP Robert J. Morrissey in regard to DFO’s interest in pursuing a ban on prawn freezing.
While the unanimous support of the standing committee is a major step forwards for the issue of frozen prawns, a DFO commitment to fully rescind the prawn freezing decision is yet to be announced.
A statement was released by DFO following Monday’s meeting. However, it was only announced that prawn tubbing will not be in violation this year — there were no further commitments made.
“That isn’t good enough,” NDP MP Gord Johns said in a FOPO meeting held on May 5. “We are expecting a lot more. So are the fishers. So are the coastal communities that rely on this fishery. We’re not satisfied with that statement.”