Taking a Prawn Pause

We have some unanswered questions about the sourcing of our prawns. While we are waiting for more information, we are on a "prawn pause" and are not buying or selling our usual wild Pacific prawns.


OUR FAVORITE PRAWN

Wild-caught Pacific Whiteleg Prawns (Litopanaeus vannamei)

At Local Ocean we are proud of buying direct from local fishing boats. I love that if I have a question about a fishery, I can walk down to the docks and ask a local fishermen, a fishery scientist, or a fishery manager right here in Newport.


One exception to our fisher-direct supply chain is the prawns we buy from the Pacific Coast of Mexico. We love the firm, slightly sweet, and consistently delicious wild prawn, Litopanaeus vannamei, commonly known as the whiteleg prawn. And while we have tried a few other options, wild-caught L. vannamei has always come out on top when tested for both quality and flavor.


QUESTIONS ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY


Illustration of turtle excluder device. Source: NOAA Fisheries

Of particular concern in prawn and shrimp fisheries is that they use Turtle Excluder Devices (aka "TEDs") in the nets to prevent the unintentional capture of sea turtles. For many years, we believed the fishery to be sustainable; adhering to all Mexican and US fishing laws, specifically with regards to the use of TEDs.


A few months ago, I felt that I needed to know more about the Mexican prawn fishery. I started my research with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, which rates fisheries into three sustainability categories: green (best choice), yellow (good alternative) and red (avoid). Our prawns were yellow. Wanting more information, I downloaded and dug into their 175 page report on prawns. I learned that the L. vannamei prawn population was generally considered healthy, but that the fishery could have impacts to other species or habitats depending on where and how are they caught - particularly sea turtles.


I had some questions about where and how our prawns were harvested, so I asked my supplier. Here’s what they said about their trawlers: "Each vessel, by law, is required to use TED’s (turtle excluder device) and BRD’s (by catch reduction device). Both captain and crew must take annual training courses for implementation and use of both...every vessel is required to have a GPS beacon installed so that all our boats can be tracked by, not only the owners, but the government as well. If a vessel strays into a 'no take' zone, an alarm goes off in the control center and they will get a call from the authorities to move. Typically this doesn’t affect us as our boats fish primarily Sinaloa, some Southern Sonora and the West Coast of Baja." It sounded to me like they feel very confident about their traceability and tracking protocols.


However, about same time, the US government started asking questions of the Mexican fisheries agency - particularly about the use of the TEDs. I presume that the US did not get their questions answered to their satisfaction, as they imposed an import ban on Mexican prawns in April of 2021. Whoa! This was a game changer. Our supplier is telling us to trust them, and at the same time the US government is calling all Mexican prawn fisheries into question.


WHAT NOW?


So, at Local Ocean, we decided to hit pause and stopped buying prawns. Mind you, I’m not saying our supplier is not to be trusted, or that Mexican prawn fisheries are good or bad - I’m just saying, “I don’t know.” And when it comes to seafood we sell at Local Ocean, that’s not something I am ok with saying.


What I do know, is that the Mexican government is reportedly tightening regulations on use of TEDs so the US embargo can be lifted this Fall. I also understand that our supplier is undergoing a 3rd party sustainability certification with the Marine Stewardship Council, which would go a long way in reinforcing trust.


Because that’s what it really comes down to: Trust. You all trust us to do the hard work on sourcing seafood you can feel good about. Right now we are taking the time to do just that.


In the meantime, you can join me in an extra serving of our own Oregon Pink shrimp. Locally-caught and MSC-certified, it's always a good choice!


For a more decadent alternative, we love to sear up Weathervane scallops from Alaska, which you will find in our signature stews while on the prawn pause.




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