Day in the Life of a Spot Prawn Fisher

Lance Underwood | BCBusiness
For fishers like Lance Underwood, a spot prawn fishing licence costs more than $500,000

Spot-prawn fisher Lance Underwood, in his own words

During our 40- to 70-day season, we fish every single day. Whether the sun is shining and the ocean is glassy, or we’re confronted with gale force winds and sideways rain, we fish. At about 4 a.m. I rouse my sleepy crew. While the crew loads bait for days of fishing, I go through the engine room checking for anything out of the ordinary. If everything checks out, I fire up the engines and let the boat warm up. After the engines are up to temperature, the crew throws off the lines and we idle out of the harbour.

On our way to the fishing grounds, we stop in a particular spot to take water for our live tank. Depending on the tidal current, that spot will change over the course of the season. Usually by 6 a.m. we are taking water in a place where the water is deep and cold and there’s lots of current, so that we are circulating the best water possible over our product. Once we take water, we will get the boat moving at top speed, and circulate the water through a chiller system that takes the water from a temperature of about 45 F down to about 37 F. As the water cools, we check the salinity level. In order to have the best product, we need to keep our temperature and salinity levels perfect.

At 7 a.m. we can legally begin hauling our prawn gear, so by 6:30 a.m. we are sitting by our buoy, water chilled and ready to go. At 7 a.m., the action begins. Our boat has two licences, so we are allowed to haul all of our 500 traps once a day, as opposed to the 300 traps a day that a single-licence boat hauls. The extra 200 traps make for a fast-paced day. We will rip through a string of 50 traps as fast as we can, and if fishing is good, we will set back on the spot; if it isn’t, we move. This cycle is repeated over the course of the day. 

During our day, we may cover over 100 nautical miles. Timing is everything. We have to be back in the harbour and offloaded no later than 6 p.m. so that our live truck, which delivers our prawns to processors in Vancouver every evening, can make the ferry to the mainland. It is equally important to get in and offloaded ASAP to make sure that we are delivering the freshest product possible. 

Once the truck is off to Vancouver, we finish our day by mending prawn traps and doing various maintenance projects. Two to three days a week, we head back out to sea to fish for crab. All said and done, our days are usually about 15 to 20 hours long. It’s a grind but it’s a short season—and it’s what we know and love. 

A spot prawn fishing licence costs more than $500,000. While the price tag might seem high, the gross value of the spot prawn fishery is between $40 million and $45 million a year, so many fishers consider it worthwhile to get their share of the catch. For the 2014 season, Sporer says, it’s hard to tell whether the numbers will be high or low. “We are hoping there are lots of prawns out there, but conservation is paramount.”

The fishery’s focus is on maintaining the acceptable number of females left at the bottom so that the population is upheld and that there will be another season next year. “We need to protect the stocks because if there are no prawns, there is no fishery,” he says. “That’s what’s important.”