Eastern King Prawn

Latin name: Melicertus plebejus

Common name: Prawn

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Wild Caught


Key Facts

  • Eastern king prawns are caught in bottom otter trawls. The fisheries operate in sandy/muddy coastal and estuarine environments.
  • Stocks are healthy and not thought to be overfished, although fishery management in NSW falls short of best practice in Australian prawn trawl fisheries.
  • The accidental catch of threatened and endangered species like endemic sharks and rays is a major issue in Australian prawn fisheries. In NSW, there is low confidence in the accuracy of fisher reports of low levels of interactions considering the high fishing effort and a significant threat to vulnerable species cannot be discounted.
  • A new harvest strategy, which will improve the balance of ecological, social and economic factors at play in the fishery, was under development for the NSW fishery at the time of writing.
  • Eastern king prawns are caught using otter trawls that operate across the seafloor. Areas of the seafloor are protected in area closures and marine parks to an extent in both NSW and QLD, but the NSW Government was considering unwinding marine park protections at time of writing

More information

  • NSW Ocean Prawn Trawl Fishery, Estuary Prawn Trawl Fishery (656t in 2019/20)

Eastern king prawns are endemic to the east coast of Australia, ranging from northern Queensland to north-eastern Tasmania. They are found from estuaries and intertidal areas all the way out to continental shelf depths of 200m. Eastern king prawns are a fast growing species caught in trawl fisheries in NSW and QLD, with the majority caught in QLD. The same stock is caught in both states, but is managed separately.

Key ongoing concerns include the poor management of threatened and endangered species caught as bycatch and a high level of discards and byproducts caught. Fisher reporting of this bycatch is not considered reliable and observer coverage is inadequate.

Bycatch is thought to include white sharks, scalloped hammerhead and grey nurse sharks, seahorses and pipefish and green turtles. The fishery also operates in a region identified as an extinction-risk ‘hotspot’ for endemic sharks and rays like the whitefin swell shark, but there are no fishing rules in place to halt their decline.

In reporting provided by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in 2021 as part of the accreditation to export overseas, no threatened and endangered species bycatch was reported for two of the five most recent fishing years.This reporting is considered an unlikely reflection of the fishery’s real impacts.

At the time of writing, a research observer program had been completed based on data from 2017-19, but this data has not been published so it is not possible to understand the impact of the fishery.

Bycatch species that are not endangered or threatened, and discards are not required to be reported in the Ocean Trawl Fishery, from which the majority of the prawn catch comes in NSW.

The trawl gear used poses moderate risks to seafloor habitats. Fishery managers have trialed trawl gear designs that could reduce disturbance impacts but it is unclear whether these designs will be introduced to the entire fishery. There is a lack of understanding of the impacts on habitats and ecosystems due to a lack of investment in research by managers.

Marine parks in NSW provide the most effective science based protection from the significant ecological risks posed by trawling, but alarmingly, at the time of writing, the NSW Government was considering opening highly protected marine parks to fishing.