Banana Prawn

Latin names: Fenneropenaeus merguiensis, F. indicus

Common name: Prawn

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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.

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Wild Caught


Key Facts

  • Banana prawns are caught in pelagic (open ocean) and bottom trawl fisheries in Queensland.
  • While the banana prawn catch is weakly managed in Queensland, the species is likely resilient to overfishing and there is no evidence the stock is unhealthy.
  • Bycatch of threatened and endangered species including endemic sharks and rays is a major issue in Australian prawn fisheries. Ongoing concerns include the abandonment of an observer program in the Queensland fishery in 2012 and high bycatch levels relative to other fishing methods.
  • Banana prawns are caught using otter trawls that operate just above the seafloor. Trawling is conducted over sandy and muddy seafloors in and around the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. However 66% of the marine park is closed to fishing and the impact of trawling over previously trawled habitat is not thought to be of high risk to the environment.
  • The Queensland fishery is managed under a newly implemented harvest strategy. The strategy is improving the balance of ecological, social and economic factors at play in the fishery by implementing management techniques which look after the stock better.

More information

  • East Coast Trawl Fishery (587t in 2020, 449t in 2019)

Banana prawns are found in shallow estuaries and intertidal areas to depths of 45m. They live in turbid waters for much of their lifespan, inhabiting sheltered mangrove creeks as juveniles and relatively sheltered coastlines as juveniles.

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 QLD.

Trawling occurs over sandy and muddy seafloor habitats within the Great Barrier Reef and Moreton Bay Marine Parks, where habitats are relatively well understood, as well as to the south of the marine park. Current zoning means that 66% of the Great Barrier Reef and 44% of the Moreton Bay marine park is closed to trawl fishing, protecting a significant proportion of marine habitat. Assessments of the impact of fishing on marine habitats show that trawling presents a relatively low risk of long-term or significant damage to habitats within the marine park. In addition, all boats operating in the fishery have location monitoring devices, which means that authorities can ensure fishing is only taking place in areas open to fishing.

Queensland trawl fishers are required to report any threatened and endangered species they catch but serious concerns have been raised in this fishery about unreliable reporting. Despite no major changes to management and a consistent level of fishing effort in recent years, 2019 saw a 63% reduction in bycatch reports of species like sawfish, sea turtles and sea snakes. This bycatch reporting is unverifiable because there has been no independent observer program since 2012.

Bycatch mitigation measures include turtle excluder devices, bycatch reduction devices and closures. However, this fishery has a high level of discards and it is concerning they are not required to be reported. The most recently available data estimated 25,271t of discards in 2014, compared to 6702t of retained catch in the same year.

The northern and central fishery regions lie entirely within the Great Barrier Reef marine park, which likely provides a significant degree of protection by bycatch, byproduct and discard species.

The fishery will be required to resume an independent observer program by 2024, likely to be based on e-monitoring. While it is welcome, the program should be implemented sooner.

There is a strong potential for this rating to improve in the future, provided that the broad reforms currently underway deliver the strong and effective management needed to support well managed and sustainable fisheries in QLD.