Western King Prawn

Latin name: Melicertus latisulcatus

Common names: Prawn, prawns, Blue leg king prawn

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Wild Caught


Key Facts

  • Western king prawns are caught in multiple locations around Australia, with the largest fisheries operating in SA.
  • Stocks of western king prawns caught in SA are considered healthy.
  • The trawl fisheries catch low numbers of protected pipefish, seahorses and sea dragons but scientific assessments indicate that fishing is not resulting in population declines of these species.
  • The area of seabed trawled is mainly made up of mud and sand. Areas less than 10m depth are closed and protect seagrass beds, and fishery managers limit the amount of seabed that can be trawled. This means the overall footprint of the fishery is low.

Cooking & Recipes


Firm, sweet, meaty and packed full of flavour – there’s a reason that Aussies love prawns! If you want to peel whole prawns for a salad or seafood cocktail, a quick steam or boil (2-3 minutes) is all that they require. Whole prawns can also be split down the centre to grill on the barbecue. Peeled prawns are great pan-fried, stir-fried, or dropped into a soup, stew or curry. Just be sure to add them at the last minute to avoid overcooking them.

More information

  • SA Spencer Gulf Prawn Fishery, Gulf St. Vincent Prawn Fishery, West Coast Prawn Fishery (2,402t in 2015-16)

Western king prawns are caught in various jurisdictions around Australia, with the largest catches coming from SA. In SA, these prawns are caught in Spencer Gulf, Gulf St. Vincent and outside of the gulfs. Stocks are considered healthy in these areas, based on long term fishery records of catch and regular scientific surveys of prawn numbers. Historical stock collapse in the Gulf St. Vincent fishery has been addressed by management actions, including closing the area to fishing to protect the prawns. Numbers of western king prawns in this region are considered healthy.

The trawl fisheries that catch western king prawns also catch low numbers of pipefish, seahorses and sea dragons, all of which are protected species. Independent bycatch studies have concluded that the impact of fishing activity on these species is low, and is not causing significant declines in their populations. Proactive approaches to the bycatch of giant cuttlefish in the trawls has reduced the number of cuttlefish caught, and an industry-led code of conduct is working to improve the survival rates of cuttlefish so they can be returned to the sea alive if caught.

Western king prawns are caught in bottom and mid-water trawl nets. Fishing grounds are mainly mud and sand, which are relatively resilient to trawling impacts, the areas fished are relatively well understood, and fishing is banned in waters less than 10m deep, which protects important seagrass habitat. Fishery managers also limit the areas that can be trawled, which protects large areas of the seafloor from trawling. The overall trawl footprint of the fishery is low. Marine parks offer a degree of protection for habitats in SA fisheries.

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Wild Caught


Key Facts

  • Stocks of western king prawns are currently considered acceptable in WA.
  • Western king prawns are caught using otter trawls mainly over sandy and muddy seafloors, which are relatively resilient to the effects of trawling.
  • Marine parks provide some protection from the impacts of trawling in Exmouth Gulf and Shark Bay.
  • Bycatch reduction measures are mandatory in these fisheries, and have likely reduced accidental turtle catches.
  • The fisheries interact with threatened species, including sawfish, turtles and sea snakes. Some efforts have been made to reduce the impact of fishing on these species, and although catches remain significant they are not thought to be driving further population declines.
  • Fishery plans include the introduction of an independent observer program to verify the impact of the fishery on endangered wildlife, although it is unclear whether this has been implemented or progressed.

More information

  • WA Shark Bay Prawn Managed Fishery, Exmouth Gulf Prawn Managed Fishery (1,822t in 2015)

Western king prawns are caught in various jurisdictions around Australia, with the largest catches coming from SA. High volumes are also caught in WA fisheries, where there are no concerns over the health of the prawn populations.

The fisheries report interactions with sawfish, turtles and sea snakes, although fishery reports suggest that significant impacts on threatened species are unlikely. 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. BRDs and TEDs are mandatory in these fisheries and have likely been successful in reducing turtle deaths. However, threatened species bycatch remains an ongoing issue. Fishery plans include the introduction of an independent observer program, although it is unclear whether this has been implemented or progressed.

Prawns are caught using otter trawls that operate mainly over mud and sand. Otter trawls operate just above the seafloor when targeting western king prawns, which has the potential to cause significant habitat disturbance. Habitat types are relatively well understood in all fishing areas, tend not to support sensitive marine communities and are fairly resilient to disturbance. 62% of Shark Bay is protected from the impacts of trawling in marine parks, with marine parks providing some protection in Exmouth Gulf. Research shows that marine parks are highly effective tools to protect ecosystems from prawn trawl fishing impacts.

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Wild Caught


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.