Vancouver Spot Prawn Festival: five things you need to know about spot prawns
So, today was the much-heralded Chefs’ Table Society Spot Prawn festival down on Fishermen’s Wharf. In its seventh year more than 2000 sustainable seafood fans poured into False Creek to dive into the new season of spot prawns. Sweeter than many other prawn varieties and much-loved by BC chefs, there are several spot prawn festivals and dinners (like this series at yummy Italian Campagnolo) across BC for the season. Try to get along to one of them because oh, those prawns are good!
1. No one knows how long the season will be. I chatted with Chris Sporer, the Executive Director of the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association, who told me that, “In 2009 the season lasted for 66 days and in 2012 it was just 44 days. The fishery is monitored to check the health of the stock and count the number of spawning prawns. When the threshold is reached, that’s it, season over.” This is what makes the BC Spot Prawn season one of the most sustainable there is.
2. Prawns change sex. Seriously. Spot prawns have a natural four-year life cycle. All prawns are born male but around aged two, they become female and then start to spawn in their last year, so every adult prawn you eat is a female.
3. Commercially-fished BC Spot Prawns go through vigorous checks. Spot prawns are caught in traps which get dropped to the ocean floor – so there is no trawling. The traps stay on the bottom and the fishermen can only haul up once a day. The first check comes from the prawns themselves – the holes in the traps are fairly large, so first the smaller ones swim in, then the larger ones arrive and chase the little ones out. Once they are hauled in, because they are hand-sorted, any remaining young prawns are thrown back in the ocean and those that remained are checked against a size requirement.
4. If you buy them fresh – off with their head! Yup, turns out that unless you want to cook and eat those prawns immediately, if you’re keeping spot prawns at home in the fridge, you need to take their heads off as soon as you get them home as they start decomposing and that affects the taste. I drove home from Fishermen’s Wharf with my bag of prawns jumping away on the floor next to me, raced upstairs, boiled them (heads on to get the best taste) for a minute and a half and then doused them in cold water to stop the cooking. Then I ate them dipped in aioli. Oh, yes please! So when you buy them from a fishmonger, make sure they’re live in a tank or already have the head off.
5. Support sustainable fishing – ask where the prawns came from You can buy spot prawns from Washington State or Alaska – but nothing beats the taste of a fresh-off-the-boat BC spot prawn. And nothing feels better than knowing that you’re supporting one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world. Sure, the season’s short but that makes it all the sweeter… Ask questions and make sure you support the good guys!
Everything you ever wanted to know about spot prawns from Organic Ocean