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Shrimp fishing is no small matter

The crew of an aluminum fishing boat tied up for an hour or so at the Langley Marina this week. Stenciled on the back of the plain craft in black lettering was the name, Sundowner. Stacked high on the deck were several dozen prawn pots.

The two person crew — skipper Ted Jackson and crewman James Anderson — were taking a lunch break on shore at the Langley Boat Harbor. Both men are members of the Suquamish tribe and are commercial prawn fishers.

On April 1, the commercial prawn fishing season opened in Washington state. This year, commercial tribal and non-tribal fishers will harvest 401,530 pounds of prawns from Puget Sound. Recreational fishers will share in the non-tribal quota of about 200,000 pounds.

On Monday, Anderson and Jackson hauled in about 180 pounds of spot prawns before noon. They fished the Saratoga Pass about a mile out from Langley, which is a healthy habitat for the Puget Sound shrimp.

“We will catch at least another 180 pounds this afternoon,” Anderson said.

That’s a $2,000 for a day’s work. It’s a good day, for both the men and their tribe, because some of that profit goes back to the tribe.

The price of fresh prawns on the wholesale market is between $5.50 and $7.00 per pound. Cooked and cleaned prawns sell for at least $9 per pound. Prawns are one of the more lucrative fisheries, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Spot prawns, sometimes called scampi, are 7 inches long and are definitely not the tiny shrimp found in traditional shrimp cocktails.

On Monday, the Sundowner was carrying 90 pots or baskets, 10 under the legal limit. To catch the shrimp, Anderson and Jackson string 30 baited pots per line and send them down to deep water to drag the bottom and make their catch.

Once they start pulling them up, they find not only prawns, but star fish, flounder and assorted other creatures from the deep.

“We toss everything back except for the prawns,” Jackson said.

Prawn season is traditionally open from April to October, with some periodic closures.

The state’s shrimp fishery is managed both by the tribes and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Morris Barker, marine resource manager for Fish and Wildlife, said shrimping is a fairly valuable industry in the state. One way to assess that is by the cost of the licenses purchased each year. A single license can cost as much as $100,000, Baker said.

In Puget Sound, only 12 commercial licenses are issued to non-tribe fishermen. By comparison, the three northwest tribes — Suquamish, Tulalip and x — have 20 boats harvesting prawns.

Like other commercial fisheries, prawns are heavily regulated by both the state and the tribes.

Barker said fishing areas are assessed, and sometimes closed to keep from over harvesting the resource.

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