Thursday 12 May 2011

Spot Prawns

It’s spot prawn time and the folks in Cowichan Bay are celebrating the season with a festival on Sunday.  The area restaurants will be featuring spot prawn specials, and there will be cooking demonstrations at the pier, live music on three different stages, childrens’ activities and—of course—prawns for sale.  I’m not a fan of crowds so I likely won’t stay for the whole day, but I do plan to be there for the early bird prawn sale at Cowichan Bay Seafood.

Spot prawns are the largest of the seven commercial species of shrimp found in Canada’s west coast waters. They’re found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from Unalaska Island, Alaska to San Diego, California, and in the northwestern Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Japan to the Korea Strait.  In British Columbia, 65% of prawns are harvested in the inside waters of Vancouver Island.[1]

The spot prawn’s body colour is usually reddish brown or orange with white horizontal bars on the carapace (shell) and distinctive white spots on the first and fifth abdominal segments. While large females can exceed 9 inches in total length, the restricted carapace (shell) size limit for harvest is 1 1/3 inch long.[2]

The Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program recognizes spot prawns as a sustainable seafood choice, caught in a way a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem.  Cooking with spot prawns not only adds great flavour to your menu and is beneficial to your health; it’s a wise environmental choice as well.

The spot prawn season is short—about 80 days long—so I plan to avail myself of this treat while I can.  The early bird price for prawns at the festival is $8.50/lb.  Later in the day when the prawn boats start selling from the pier, the price will be around $10 to $11/lb. Both prices are bargains when you consider that in Japan spot prawns can go for as much as $100/lb.

Known for their sweet flavour and firm texture, spot prawns have found a large market in Japan where they are recognized as a more flavourful and sustainable choice than farmed tiger prawns.  About 90% of BC’s annual spot prawn catch is exported to Japan.  The remaining 10% is purchased by the local market.

Spot prawn tails are often served as sushi.  Whole prawns can be sautéed or grilled, butterflied, skewered, baked, steamed, or boiled.  They cook in just a couple of minutes, making them a quick and flavourful choice for hurried cooks.  If you’re looking for recipes, a good starting point would be

I hope you’ll try these prawns while they are in season and I hope too that you’ll take a few minutes before your next shopping trip to research sustainable seafood choices.  As spot prawns demonstrate, sustainable can be enjoyable too.


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