Western King Prawn

Latin name: Melicertus latisulcatus

Common name: Prawn

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Wild Caught


Key Facts

  • Although information used to assess the health of Western king prawns along the east coast of QLD is old, there are no immediate concerns over the stock status of these species.
  • This fishery interacts 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 population declines.
  • The fishery observer program in QLD was cancelled in 2012, meaning there is no independent record of the impact of the 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.
  • Western king 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. Zoning closes 66% of the marine park to fishing and the impact of trawling over trawled habitat is not thought to be of high risk to the environment.
  • QLD fisheries are currently undergoing broad reforms that have the strong potential to improve this ranking in future, provided that the reforms deliver the strong and effective management needed to support well managed and sustainable fisheries.

More information

  • QLD East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery (149t in 2015)

This assessment is based on the current impact of fishing for western king prawns in QLD-managed fisheries. A reform of QLD fisheries 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.

Western king prawns are a minor component of a fishery that primarily targets tiger prawns along the east coast of QLD. Although information used to assess the health of the population on the east coast is relatively old, there are no indications of issues with the stock at present.

In QLD, western king prawns are caught in a trawl fishery that targets multiple species of prawns, scallops and fish. The fishery operates within and around the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and the majority of western king prawns are caught within the marine park boundaries. 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. They are mandatory in this fishery and it is believed they have been successful in reducing turtle deaths. However, threatened species bycatch, including of dolphins, turtles, sea snakes, sawfish and seahorses, remains an ongoing issue.

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 QLD, which means that there is no information on the impact of this fishery on marine animals that have no commercial value.

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 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 this 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. As there is no record of actual protected species interactions over time, the ecological impacts of this fishery cannot be measured or managed.

Trawling occurs over sandy and muddy substrate within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, where habitats are relatively well understood, as well as to the south of the marine park. Zoning closes 66% of the Great Barrier Reef to trawl fishing, protecting a significant proportion of marine habitat. Assessments of the impact of fishing to marine habitats showed that trawling presents a relatively low risk of long-term or significant damage to habitat 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 subject to fishing.

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