Mr. Speaker, Fisheries and Oceans Canada understands how important the Pacific prawn fishery is to British Columbia’s economy and culture. That is why we are making sure that tubbing can continue and harvesters will be able to sell their catch to Canadians to enjoy. This season, we have confirmed our support for an interim protocol that was developed by the industry, which will help prawn harvesters ensure that their catch continues to be sustainable and will be available for sale. We will continue to a take a cautious approach to fisheries management, one that prioritizes the conservation and sustainability of the stocks while also supporting this important industry.
In response to (a), the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, DFO, has not banned the flash-freezing or tubbing of prawns at sea. The practice of flash-freezing prawns whole and individually finger-packed at sea has occurred since the 1990s and remains the predominant product type since the mid-1990s. Tubbing prawn tails at sea in frozen sea water has occurred for a number of years but has not been prevalent, and has grown in recent years. The industry estimates that about 10% of the total prawn catch is tubbed. Prawns are also delivered live.
In response to (b), the requirement to pack prawns in a way such that the size can readily be determined is not a new or recent decision, nor has DFO recently changed its interpretation of the regulations. Any person who catches a fish while commercial fishing must have it packaged in a way that allows for the species, number, weight, and size to be readily determined. This regulation has been in place since 1993 and is essential for DFO to verify harvesters’ catches and properly manage fisheries, particularly in situations where size restrictions apply.
DFO has been actively working with the commercial prawn industry on market traceability for packaging and labelling of prawns frozen at sea. Among the objectives of this project is to limit access to markets for illegal products, and for packaging to be done in a manner that will meet all existing federal and provincial regulations. Over the course of this work, DFO identified our concerns about packaging spot prawn tails in frozen sea water, also known as “tubbing”, in late January 2021.
DFO’s concerns with onboard packaging of prawn tails in tubs of frozen sea water are that this packaging does not enable the determination of the size of prawn tails in the tub, which is a requirement outlined in subsection 36(2) of the fishery general regulations, 1993. Size limits are an important component in managing conservation and the sustainability of the spot prawn. It is important that all packaging at sea allows for size limits to be readily determined by a fishery officer.
In response to (c), over the course of the market traceability work, DFO Pacific region fisheries management and conservation and protection staff identified DFO’s concerns to industry representatives about packaging spot prawn tails in frozen sea water.
In response to (d), as described in earlier responses, there was no decision made to ban freezing or tubbing of prawns at sea. The minister and her office were made aware of industry concerns about the prospect that tubbing may not meet regulatory requirements through industry outreach to her office and briefings from DFO officials in early March.
In response to (e), size limits were first introduced in 1988 based on scientific research published in 1985. Size limits are an important component in managing the sustainability of the prawn fishery and are based also on recommendations from industry. A size limit allows prawns to grow, reach sexual maturity, and mate prior to being harvested. It also allows for increased growth prior to harvest. Harvesting prawns at a larger size increases the weight and value, price paid per pound, improving economic return.
In response to (f), an analysis was conducted in 1985 estimating the increased dollar value and price to harvest prawns at a larger age and size. Size limits are an important component in managing the sustainability of the prawn fishery and are based also on recommendations from industry.
In response to (g), as described in earlier responses, there was no decision made to ban freezing or tubbing of prawns at sea. As a result of DFO’s collaboration with industry, the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association, which represents commercial prawn fishery licence-holders, has developed a protocol that provides guidance to harvesters on steps they can take this year to help them comply with the regulations that require them to keep their catch readily available for inspection by fishery officers, including catch frozen in tubs. DFO supports its use as an interim approach for 2021. The commercial fishery is scheduled to open May 14, 2021 and usually closes by end of June. DFO will continue to engage with industry over the coming year to determine a longer-term solution.
In response to (h), DFO officials have been meeting with commercial prawn fishery representatives on this issue over the past several months. DFO recently convened a working group with fishing industry representatives to explore options for addressing the tubbing issue for 2021. The protocol is a result of this work. DFO will continue to work with industry to transition to packaging practices or other measures that will allow size limits to be readily determined over the coming year.
In response to (i), no negative impacts are expected for export or domestic markets. DFO does not anticipate higher expenses for fishermen or higher prices for Canadian consumers. DFO is aware of the importance of tubbing to some harvesters. A protocol has been developed to provide guidance to harvesters on steps they can take this year to help them comply with the regulations that require them to keep their catch readily available for inspection by fishery officers, including catch frozen in tubs. DFO conservation and protection will apply discretion in its enforcement approach for the 2021 fishing season, recognizing the effort industry has made to establish the protocol and the challenges industry faces this year, while the development of different packaging practices or other measures is completed over the coming year.