Australia’s researchers and fishers responded early to understand Australia's wild prawn populations and to investigate ways to reduce the impacts of fishing on the environment. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) acknowledges Australia’s wild prawn industry as a sustainability role model for the world.

The Past

To keep up with demand, the main management aim of harvest fisheries in previous decades was to maximise sustainable yields of the target species. Relatively little attention was paid to minimising the effects of fishing on the broader ecosystem. Prawn fishing worldwide is responsible for 1/3 of global bycatch – species that aren’t intended to be caught. Overfishing can also cause collapse of fish stocks.

“Up until the end of 1948, outside (of the river and bay) prawning was not carried on at all. We weren’t aware of the stocks that were available at sea. We knew the rivers were the nurseries for the younger prawns, but nobody knew that they went to sea to spawn, to complete the life cycle.”

– Evans Paddon, 3rd generation prawn fisherman, Evans Head NSW

penaeus monodon broodstock

“As long as we keep going the way we are going – and endless supply of prawns”

– Lenny Franklin, Exmouth Gulf 2019

The Present

Australia’s present day prawn fishing industry is a partnership of science, industry self-regulation, management and legislation.  Fisheries aim to ensure that all species, communities and habitats are not impacted in a way that compromises their long-term viability. This is in turn beneficial to prawn fishing sustainability.

Bio-economic models and stock assessment surveys are used in many fisheries to set harvest levels that maintain productive prawn stocks while maximising fishery returns and minimising ecological impacts.

Australia’s prawn fishers are involved in management in partnership with State and Federal governments and actively invest in managing bycatch and reducing environmental impacts. All prawn fisheries operate and are committed to high ecologically sustainable standards. Fisheries operate under their state, territory or federal legislation. They are required to meet obligations under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and achieve the Global Seafood Sustainability Index standard.

There are three main ways that Australia minimises the broader ecological impacts of prawn fishing:


Limitation on number of boats licensed to harvest prawns.

This coupled with stock assessments prior to the opening of the season ensures that prawns are not overfished.


Improvements to the selectivity of fishing gear.

Improvements to the selectivity of fishing gear. Bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) allow fish species to swim out of the net. Some BRDs have reduced bycatch by between 30-70%. The introduction of Turtle Exclusion Devices in the early 2000s in fisheries where turtles are found reduced turtle bycatch by 99%.


Reduction of fishing effort in both the area and the number of days fished.

Targeted fishing effort in both the area and the number of days fished. Research has assisted a number of fisheries to concentrate their fishing effort at times and in locations where the catch will be highest and the impacts the lowest. This reduces fuel use and reduces ecological impact. Trawling is confined to areas of ocean floor that are sand or mud. Studies have found no significant difference in biodiversity between trawled and non-trawled area in the NPF, WA, Qld and SA.

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