Western King Prawn


Latin name: Melicertus latisulcatus


Common names: Prawn, Blue leg king prawn

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Wild Caught

Region:
QLD

Key Facts

  • Western king prawns are caught in bottom otter trawls in Queensland in a fishery that targets multiple species.
  • While the species is likely resilient to overfishing and there is no evidence the stock is unhealthy, it is concerning the western king prawn catch has almost doubled between 2019 and 2020. Environmental fluctuations, linked to seasonal rainfall, are likely to have greater impact on their stock levels than fishing pressure.
  • The accidental catch of threatened and endangered species like endemic sharks and rays is a major issue in Australian prawn fisheries. Bycatch mitigation measures including turtle excluder devices are used in Queensland but the state abandoned an independent observer program in 2012 so bycatch reporting may not be reliable.
  • 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.
  • 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 (219t in 2020, 127t in 2019)

Western king prawns are mainly caught in the central and southern regions of the fishery. The central region lies entirely within the Great Barrier Reef marine park, which likely provides a degree of protection for bycatch, byproduct and discard species.

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 lacking, there are no indications of issues with the stock at present.

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 major reduction in reporting bycatch of species like sawfish, sea turtles and sea snakes. This bycatch reporting is unverifiable because there has been no independent observer program since 2012.

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.

New evidence has shown that the Queensland stock of saucer scallops – a byproduct in the southern section of the fishery –  is at 15% of historic levels, meaning it is overfished. Queensland fishery rules state that a fishery should be closed when a stock is below 20%, and yet one area of this fishery off Fraser Island and the southern Great Barrier Reef remains open. Even low levels of scallop bycatch in fishing targeting western king prawns would negatively impact the recovery of the scallop stock.

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.

Western king prawns are fished from inshore coastal waters to about 80m depth. They are found throughout the Indo-West Pacific and fished around Australia except south eastern waters.