Western King Prawn


Latin name: Melicertus latisulcatus


Common names: Prawn, prawns

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Wild Caught

Region:
SA

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.

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

Region:
WA

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

Region:
QLD

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.