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- Royal red prawns are caught using trawls in a Commonwealth-managed fishery in Australia. Fisheries scientists have assessed that the stock is healthy.
- Some of the seabed in which this fishery operates has been mapped, and trawling grounds overlap with high-risk habitats, including areas of sensitive corals and sponges.
- Historically high impacts on fragile marine habitats have been addressed through the closure of some trawling areas.
- The fishery catches some threatened species such as Australian fur seals and seabirds, although industry has been proactive in trying to reduce mortalities of these vulnerable species.
- All trawl vessels must now have seabird management plans in place to reduce seabird deaths, although the effectiveness of new measures will become clear in the coming years.
- The broader fishery discards up to half of its catch. The ecological impacts of this discarding have not been fully quantified.
- Commonwealth Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (Commonwealth Trawl Sector) (171t in 2017)
Royal red prawns are a deepwater species of prawn, caught mostly off the eastern coast of Australia. They can live as deep as 800m, but are mainly caught around depths of 500m. They are caught in a trawl fishery managed by the Commonwealth Government. Government fisheries scientists have assessed that the stock caught in Australia is healthy.
Royal red prawns are caught using otter trawls. Some of the area where this fishery operates has been well mapped in order to identify the distribution of sensitive sea floor species. Trawling sometimes takes place on areas of seafloor that support sponges, hard corals and bryozoans (small invertebrates that form colonies similar to coral reefs), but it is unclear how much trawling activity is resulting in damage to habitats and associated species. Some areas of marine habitat are protected in marine parks and through other spatial closures. It is likely the fishery has had a high impact on the marine environment in the past, particularly on slow growing animals, but spatial closures and reductions in the amount of fishing over the past two decades have reduced that impact.
Closures to fishing to protect overfished deepwater dogfish could also provide some protection to marine habitats.
Protected species caught in this fishery include Australian fur seals and seabirds (including albatross and shearwaters). Inconsistencies between logbook reporting and independent observers have been a problem in the past, and the fishing industry has been addressing these inconsistencies through training schemes.
There is some independent monitoring of the fishery that catches royal red prawns. While reporting of endangered wildlife deaths has improved in recent years, a comparison between observer-recorded deaths and fishery logbook records is needed in order to provide confidence in reporting and clearly show deaths are decreasing.
Seal Excluder Devices (SEDs), which act as escape hatches for seals that enter trawl nets, are mandatory. All trawl boats must have a seabird management plan in place to guide how each boat aims to reduce interactions with seabirds while actively fishing. Many of the solutions to seabird interactions have been innovations led by the fishing industry. Initial evidence seems to indicate that some innovations could reduce the impact of fishing on endangered seabirds, however these have only recently been applied to fishing vessels and their effectiveness currently remains unquantified.
Royal red prawns are caught alongside unwanted fish that are then discarded. The amount of discarded fish is not available for royal red prawn fishing, but it is estimated that around half of the weight of the total catch in the entire otter trawl fishery may be discarded, with many of these fish dying during the process. The quantity discarded has improved in the past two decades but requires continued improvement. The cumulative ecosystem impacts of discarding fish have not yet been quantified.