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Trawling for B.C. prawns a threat

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Catching these tasty delights affects other creatures. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

Catching these tasty delights affects other creatures. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

B.C.'s spot prawn fishery is among the most sustainable in the world, according to one local scientist - but the trawling for two lesser-known species of shrimp is damaging to marine life.

University of B.C. research associate Sarah Foster has been working with Project Seahorse, a marine conservation initiative that aims to save seahorses and other marine animals from man-made threats.

Spot prawns are caught by lowering traps into the water, but fishing for pink and sidestripe shrimp - sometimes used in cocktails and salads - relies on trawl nets that scrape the sea floor.

"Anytime that fishing gear has to hit the bottom in order to collect what it's catching, there's going to be concern, especially with habitat destruction," Foster said Tuesday. "If you're just getting a net along the bottom, you'll get the shrimp you want, but you'll probably get a lot of other stuff as well."

The endangered eulachon - also known as candlefish or oolichan - here in B.C. is one example.

According to a report published in March from Seafood Watch, it's a problem the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been working to fix. Just 13 years ago, 22,406 pounds of eulachon were caught as "bycatch" - the number has since been reduced to fewer than 2,205 pounds per year as of 2006. In part that's thanks to measures such as the prohibition of recreational eulachon fishing, a reduction in the size of B.C.'s active trawling fleet, and DFO-imposed limits on where trawling can occur. But even as sustainability measures are in place for our own fisheries, many of the imported stuff we get from grocery stores aren't under the same regulations, Foster said.

"Anytime that you're in a restaurant and they're serving you up tiger prawns, or there's shrimp they put in sushi, things like that, tend to be the larger shrimp that are imported from the tropics that are either trawled or cultured," she said.

"The reason they're harvesting this shrimp is to export them and send them to foreign markets. If there's a change in demand ... one can hope it would have a knockoff effect on how these fisheries operate."


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