The commercial prawn fishery is limited entry, with a maximum of 246 prawn licenses. Licenses are not managed by area, meaning that access is coast-wide. Each license may fish up to 300 traps, with the restriction of hauling each trap once per day, between the hours of 7am and 7pm. Up to two licenses can be fished on one vessel, which is referred to as ‘stacking’; in this case a stacked vessel can fish a maximum of 500 traps, once per day.
Traps are snapped or fixed onto a groundline, and set along the ocean floor. 6 lines of gear is maximum for 300 traps, and 10 lines for a stacked vessel. Commercial traps must meet with criteria which is designed to prevent by-catch of undersize prawns, (minimum mesh hole size), and prevent the trap from continual fishing if lost on the ocean floor (use of rot cord, which allows the trap to open freely after disintegration). Maximum trap size, number and size of entrance openings, and mandatory non-solid sides, are also measures taken to maintain sustainability of the fishery.
B.C.’s commercial prawn fishing season opens in May and generally closes in mid to late June. Spawner Index sampling, which provides data on the number of spawners and quantity of prawns by age class in each area, assists in determining closure dates for each area and then for the fishery coast wide. Other factors, such as number of vessels fishing in an area, are also considered. Winter is when most spawners become ‘berried’ or carry eggs, and when eggs are released. For this reason, commercial fishing takes place well away from winter months. Recreational fishing closures often occur during Winter months for this reason also, when the number of spawners in an area may indicate a need for additional protection. The commercial prawn and shrimp by trap fishery is one of the most valuable in the Pacific Region, accounting for a landed value of $35.3 million in 2013. For many years, until the mid-2000s, prawns were almost exclusively exported to Japan. Prawns are now enjoying a higher demand in other export markets such as China, as well as in domestic markets. A strong and expanding desire for sourcing local and sustainable food has put a bright spotlight on the B.C. wild prawn, and domestic demand is expected to show continual growth.