Eastern King Prawn

Latin name: Melicertus plebejus

Common name: Prawn

  • Say No

Wild Caught


Key Facts

  • There is concern over the status of eastern king prawns caught in NSW; prawns caught are too small and fishing pressure currently set too high to protect the stock.
  • Protected species interactions occur in both fisheries; species impacted include seahorses, pipefish and sea snakes, although the available research indicates the catch is not resulting in population declines.
  • The fishery observer program in QLD was cancelled in 2012, meaning there is no independent record of the impact of this fishery on threatened species. Observation of the fishery is considered essential to the management of a sustainable fishery. It is highly likely the impact of the fishery on endangered wildlife is higher than currently recorded.
  • Fishery observation has been lacking in NSW. An observer program is due for completion in 2018 but was not available for the current assessment.
  • Eastern king prawns are caught using otter trawls that operate just above the seafloor. Areas of the seafloor are protected in area closures and marine parks to an extent in both NSW and QLD.

Note: NSW and QLD fisheries are currently undergoing broad reforms that should improve this ranking in the future, provided that the reforms deliver the strong and effective management necessary to support sustainable fisheries.

More information

  • NSW Ocean Prawn Trawl Fishery (528t in 2015)
  • QLD East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery (2,601t in 2016)

This assessment is based on the current impact of fishing for eastern king prawns in QLD and NSW-managed fisheries. A reform of fisheries in both jurisdictions is currently underway in order to modernise the management framework, demonstrate sustainability, improve the profitability of the industry and meet community expectations. AMCS will review the sustainability of the fishery following the fishery reform process.

Eastern king prawns are a fast growing species only found on the east coast of Australia. They are 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. The NSW government has defined eastern king prawns as ‘growth overfished’, as the NSW fishing fleet has been catching smaller sized prawns, which has been understood since at least 2010. Management actions have not been implemented to reduce the pressure of fishing. The catch has also increased significantly in QLD, adding additional strain to the species. There is a high risk that these factors will be detrimental to the stock status of the species.

Protected species interactions occur in both fisheries. Interaction reports from the NSW fishery indicate that seahorses, pipefish, sharks and rays are commonly caught. In QLD, protected seahorses, sea snakes and pipefish are caught, although there have been efforts to reduce the impact of fishing on these species. The available research indicates that bycatch of protected species is not resulting in threatened species population declines.

Independent fishery observer programs are an important method of verifying protected species interactions, as well as other fishery impacts, such as the type and volume of discarded catch. Unfortunately the QLD Government has closed the observer program for all QLD managed fisheries in 2012. In the intervening six years, there has been no independent on-vessel monitoring of the impact of the fishery, which is unacceptable for fisheries operating in the ecologically sensitive regions of the Great Barrier Reef. Concerns have been raised regarding under-reporting of endangered species caught in the fishery in logbooks. Since there is no record of actual protected species interactions over time, the ecological impacts of this fishery cannot be measured or managed.

While there is no on-going observer program in NSW, a research observer program is approaching completion in early 2018; however, the results were not available for inclusion in this assessment.

Trawl fisheries generally catch a high number of species other than those targeted, which can result in a high volume of discarding of unwanted catch. Discarded catch is not required to be reported in these fisheries, which means that there is no information on the impact of this fishery on marine animals that have no commercial value, but this will be addressed by research observers in the NSW fishery.

Trawling has the potential to cause significant damage to marine habitats. In QLD, trawling occurs over sandy and muddy substrates within the Great Barrier Reef, Moreton Bay and Great Sandy Marine Parks, where habitats are relatively well understood, as well as to the south of the marine park. Much of the marine park areas are closed to trawl fishing, protecting a significant proportion of marine habitat. The impact of trawling in southern QLD is less well understood. All boats operating in the QLD fishery have location monitoring devices, which means authorities can ensure fishing is only taking place in areas open to fishing.

While a NSW government reported some areas are at risk of damage from trawl activity in NSW, spatial closures and marine parks are in place that provide some degree of protection for saltmarsh, mangrove and seagrass habitats.

While the stock status of eastern king prawns and overall management to control the impacts of fishing on the environment are currently of concern in both NSW and QLD, there is a strong potential for this rating to improve in the future. The species has the potential to rebound if managed well, and it is hoped the broad reforms currently underway will deliver the strong and effective management needed to support well managed and sustainable fisheries.