Banana Prawn

Latin names: Fenneropenaeus merguiensis, F. indicus

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Wild Caught

WA, Commonwealth waters

Key Facts

  • Banana prawns live in tropical waters, and are short-lived and fast-growing. Long-term fishing records indicate that stocks are healthy.
  • Banana prawns are caught using otter trawls. Much of the fishing activity in Commonwealth waters targets prawn aggregations at the sea surface, so habitat impacts are minimal.
  • Habitat impacts are less well understood in the WA fishery; however, the area trawled is small, which reduces the risk of high damage to marine ecosystems.
  • Bycatch reduction measures are mandatory in these fisheries, and have reduced accidental turtle catches.
  • All fisheries interact with threatened species, including critically endangered species of sawfish, sea snakes and pipefish. Although efforts have been made to reduce the impact of fishing on these species, catches remain significant but are not thought to be driving further declines in population numbers.

More information

  • Commonwealth Northern Prawn Fishery (2,904 in 2016)
  • WA Nickol Bay Prawn Managed Fishery and Kimberley Prawn Managed Fishery (259t in 2015)

The name ‘banana prawn’ refers to two species – white and red-legged banana prawns; both species live in tropical waters and are short-lived and fast-growing. The vast majority of product sold in the Australian market comes from the Commonwealth managed Northern Prawn Fishery, catching white banana prawns. Long-term fishing records indicate that stocks are healthy in areas fished by the WA and Commonwealth fisheries.

In the Commonwealth managed fishery, spotter planes are used to find ‘boils’ or dense aggregations of banana prawns at the sea surface. Trawlers then target these aggregations, which means most of the trawling for banana prawns occurs above the seafloor and habitat damage is minimized. Much of the habitat trawled by the Commonwealth and WA fisheries is made up of mud and sand, which is relatively resilient to disturbance should fishing gear touch the bottom.

The habitat type where fishing takes place is relatively well understood in Commonwealth waters, tends not to support sensitive marine communities and is fairly resilient to disturbance. However, relatively little of the areas in which the fisheries operate is protected in spatial closures or marine parks. The information on WA habitat is of lower quality; area closures should confer a degree of protection and the risk to broader marine habitats is reduced by the relatively small scale of the fishery.

Bycatch reduction devices (BRD) and Turtle Exclusion Devices (TEDs) reduce the amount of threatened and other species that are caught and killed in fishing gear. BRDs and TEDs are mandatory in all these fisheries and have been successful in reducing turtle deaths. However, threatened species bycatch remains an issue in all fisheries.

Catches of sea snakes remains high in the Commonwealth managed fishery, although there is no indication that sea snake populations are declining as a result of fishing activity. Endangered sawfish, including the IUCN listed ‘Critically Endangered’ green and ‘Endangered’ dwarf sawfish are caught in the fishery every year, although it is complex to design modified fishing gear to reduce sawfish mortalities; the shape of their rostrums means they are especially prone to entanglement. Due to the wide distribution of sawfish, including in non-fished areas, experts have assessed that prawn fishing alone is not driving further declines in these species. While the fishing industry has been proactive at reducing the impact of fishing on endangered wildlife, it is unclear whether bycatch is declining over time.

The smaller scale WA-managed fishery also reports interactions with sawfish, turtles and sea snakes, however fishery reports suggest that as the fishery is small-scale, significant impacts on threatened species is unlikely.

The Commonwealth fishery has robust and transparent management arrangements in place, including observer programs, requirements to reports discards, assessments of the risk of the fishery to threatened species, successful plans in place to reduce bycatch, and management actions in place to rectify issues in the fishery should they occur. It is likely these management arrangements will maintain the progress of this  fishery to reduce the impact on endangered wildlife in future. Unlike other prawn fisheries operating in WA, there is no on-going observer coverage in the banana prawn fisheries, which is of concern.

Commonwealth marine parks, set to be established in 2018, may provide a degree of protection for endangered species and marine habitat. However it is notable that sectors of this industry sought, and may yet secure, significant reductions in the area of the fishery protected from trawling.