Eastern King Prawn

Melicertus plebejus

  • Andrew Prosser (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Matthew Taylor (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
Queensland Eastern Australia ECOTF Sustainable Biomass; catch, effort and CPUE relative to MSY reference points; fishery-independent index of recruit abundance
East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery (QLD)
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Stock Structure

Eastern King Prawn (Melicertus plebejus) is endemic to Australia. It is one of two Australian species (the other being Western King Prawn: Melicertus latisulcatus) recognised by the standard fish name ‘King Prawn’1. Eastern King Prawn occurs on the eastern Australian coast between Hayman Island in Queensland and north-eastern Tasmania (20–42°S respectively), and the species exhibit strong stock connectivity throughout their range2. Undertaking northward migrations into deeper water as they grow, Eastern King Prawns utilise the East Australian Current to disperse larvae southward after spawning in offshore areas2. Eastern King Prawns are harvested in Queensland and New South Wales fisheries, and are considered a single multi-jurisdictional biological stock2,3. There are two contiguous management units for the stock: one from 22–28°S in Queensland, and another along the whole New South Wales coast (28–37.5°S). A comprehensive stock assessment of the Eastern Australian biological stock was completed in 20143,4.

Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the biological stock level—Eastern Australian.

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Stock Status

Eastern Australia

The most recent assessment3 estimates that biomass in 2010 was 60–80 per cent of the unfished 1958 levels. The stock is not considered to be recruitment overfished. Maximum sustainable yield (MSY) was estimated at 3100 tonnes (t) (95 per cent confidence interval 2454–3612 t)4. The 2015 catch was 2892 t (2363 t in Queensland; 529 t in New South Wales), which is below the estimate of MSY. The average catch in 2013–15 was 3135 t, which is slightly above the estimate of MSY. The most recent stock assessment developed minimum monthly catch rate reference points that imply levels of biomass would be sufficient to sustain catches of MSY in each fishery region3. For the Queensland component of the stock, standardised monthly regional catch rates were mostly above MSY catch rate reference points between 2009 and 20155, indicating the level of biomass was sufficient to sustain catches at MSY. For the New South Wales component of the stock, the median nominal commercial catch rates were relatively stable between 2012 and 2015, and slightly greater than catch rates prior to 20126. Fishery-independent surveys of recruit abundance show variable recruitment to the fishery with no discernible trend over 10 years. Indices of recruit abundance display peaks in 2008 and 2012. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of the stock is unlikely to be recruitment overfished.

The most recent assessment3 estimates future effort (E) at MSY (EMSY), standardised to the number of boat-days in 2010, as 38 002 boat-days (95 per cent confidence interval 27 035–50 754 boat-days) assuming no further increase in fishing power or costs. An alternative estimate of 28 300 boat-days (95 per cent confidence interval 20 110–37 663 boat-days) accounts for a three per cent per year increase in fishing power over the next decade and costs from 2010 levels4. Effort in 2015 was 20 076 boat-days (14 688 boat-days in Queensland5; 5388 boat-days in New South Wales6), which was well below both estimates of EMSY and the peak effort of around 30 000 boat-days in 2000, but similar to levels in 2013. This level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment overfished. The decline in effort since 2000 has been offset by increases in fishing power7. The number of boats accessing the fishery has remained stable in Queensland since 2013, but has continued to decline in New South Wales. The above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment overfished.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Eastern Australian biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Eastern King Prawn biology8–10

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Eastern King Prawn <3 years; males 52 mm CL, females 73 mm CL Females 42 mm CL
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Eastern King Prawn

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Fishing methods
Otter Trawl
Management methods
Method Queensland
Effort limits
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Spatial closures
Temporal closures
Vessel restrictions
Possession limit
Active vessels
165 in ECOTF
East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery (QLD)
Commercial 2.36Kt in ECOTF
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown
East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery (QLD)

a Commercial (catch) The 2015 fishing season for both jurisdictions is 1 November 2014 to 31 October 2015.
b New South Wales – Indigenous Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Interim Access Arrangement - allows an Indigenous fisher in New South Wales to take in excess of a recreational bag limit in certain circumstances; for example, if they are doing so to provide fish to other community members who cannot harvest for themselves. Aboriginal cultural fishing authority - the authority that Indigenous persons can apply to take catches outside the recreational limits under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW), Section 37 (1)(c1) (Aboriginal cultural fishing authority).

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Eastern King Prawn - note confidential catch not shown

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Effects of fishing on the marine environment

  • Prawn trawling involves interactions with the benthic environment12, but can only occur over sandy or muddy substrates and not where habitat-forming biota exist13. Research shows that trawling in Queensland has no significant effect upon biodiversity or distribution patterns of benthic species compared to areas that are not trawled13,14. In Queensland, although permitted in 34 per cent of area inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP)5, trawling only occurs in suitable areas within the permitted area and poses only an intermediate risk of overfishing species assemblages15. South of the GBRMP, trawling occurs in 10 per cent of the available area16.
  • Improvements in technology and the mandatory uptake of bycatch reduction and turtle excluder devices, combined with fewer boats accessing the fishery, have reduced the overall amount of bycatch in the fishery17-21. Interactions with species of conservation interest, including turtles, sea snakes and large elasmobranchs have also been reduced19. A reduction in bycatch per trawl probably improves the survival of discards and quality of retained product20.
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Environmental effects on Eastern King Prawn

  • Climate change is likely to have a significant long-term effect on the distribution of this species. Under a scenario of increasing sea surface temperatures, the distribution of Eastern King Prawn may shift southwards, potentially impacting recruitment and the timing of migration22,23. A study of Moreton Bay indicated that recruitment in the Eastern King Prawn fishery tends to decline in years associated with warmer winters, suggesting that as coastal water temperatures rise, recruitment is also likely to decline in south-east Queensland24. Loss of seagrass beds and altered water flows in estuaries could affect the area of nursery grounds available to recruiting prawns, and affect the size of the biological stock available for capture24.
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  1. 1 Seafood Services Australia 2012, Standard fish name: King Prawn, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.
  2. 2 Montgomery, SS 1990, Movements of juvenile eastern king prawns, Penaeus plebejus, and identification of stock along the east coast of Australia, Fisheries Research, 9: 189–208.
  3. 3 Courtney, AJ, O'Neill, MF, Braccini, M, Leigh, GM, Kienzle, M, Pascoe, S, Prosser, AJ, Wang, Y-G, Lloyd-Jones, L, Campbell, AB, Ives, M, Montgomery, SS and Gorring, J 2014, Biological and economic management strategy evaluations of the eastern king prawn fishery, FRDC project 2008/019 final report, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Queensland.
  4. 4 O’Neill, MF, Leigh, GM, Wang, Y-G, Braccini, JM, and Ives, MC 2014, Linking spatial stock dynamics and economics: evaluation of indicators and fishery management for the travelling eastern king prawn (Melicertus plebejus), ICES Journal of Marine Science, 71(7): 1818–1834.
  5. 5 Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 2016, Queensland Stock Status Assessment Workshop 2016, 13–14 June 2016, Brisbane, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  6. 6 Department of Primary Industries 2015, NSW commercial fishing catch and effort records, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Sydney.
  7. 7 Braccini, JM, O'Neill, MF, Campbell, AB, Leigh, GM, and Courtney, AJ 2012, Fishing power and standardized catch rates: implications of missing vessel-characteristic data from the Australian eastern king prawn (Melicertus plebejus) fishery, Canadian journal of fisheries and aquatic sciences, 69: 797–809.
  8. 8 Courtney, AJ, Die, DJ, and McGilvray, JG 1996, Lunar periodicity in catch rate and reproductive condition of adult eastern king prawns, Penaeus plebejus, in coastal waters of south-eastern Queensland, Australia, Marine and Freshwater Research, 47: 67–76.
  9. 9 Courtney, AJ, Montgomery, SS, Die, DJ, Andrew, NL, Cosgrove, MG and Blount, C 1995, Maturation in the female eastern king prawn Penaeus plebejus from coastal waters of eastern Australia, and considerations for quantifying egg production in penaeid prawns, Marine Biology, 122: 547–556.
  10. 10 Lloyd-Jones, LR, Wang, Y-G, Courtney, AJ, Prosser, AJ and Montgomery, SS 2012, Latitudinal and seasonal effects on growth of the Australian eastern king prawn (Melicertus plebejus), Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 69: 1525–1538.
  11. 11 Rowling, K, Hegarty, A and Ives, M 2010, Status of fisheries resources in NSW 2008/09, New South Wales Industry and Investment, Cronulla.
  12. 12 Dayton, PK, Thrush SF, Agardy, MT and Hofman, RJ 1995, Environmental effects of marine fishing, Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 5: 205–232.
  13. 13 Pitcher, CR, Burridge, CY, Wassenberg, TJ, Hill, BJ and Poiner, IR 2009, A large scale BACI experiment to test the effects of prawn trawling on seabed biota in a closed area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia, Fisheries Research, 99: 168–183.
  14. 14 Pitcher, CR, Doherty, P, Arnold, P, Hooper, J, Gribble, N, Bartlett, C, Browne, M, Campbell, N, Cannard, T, Cappo, M, Carini, G, Chalmers, S, Cheers, S, Chetwynd, D, Colefax, A, Coles, R, Cook, S, Davie, P, De’ath, G, Devereux, D, Done, B, Donovan, T, Ehrke, B, Ellis, N, Ericson, G, Fellegara, I, Forcey, K, Furey, M, Gledhill, D, Good, N, Gordon, S, Haywood, M, Jacobsen, I, Johnson, J, Jones, M, Kinninmoth, S, Kistle, S, Last, P, Leite, A, Marks, S, McLeod, I, Oczkowicz, S, Rose, C, Seabright, D, Sheils, J, Sherlock, M, Skelton, P, Smith, D, Smith, G, Speare, P, Stowar, M, Strickland, C, Sutcliffe, P, Van der Geest, C, Venables, W, Walsh, C, Wassenberg, T, Welna, A and Yearsley, G 2007, Seabed biodiversity on the continental shelf of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, AIMS/CSIRO/QM/QDPI CRC Reef Research Task final report.
  15. 15 Pears, RJ, Morison, AK, Jebreen, EJ, Dunning, MC, Pitcher, CR, Courtney, AJ, Houlden, B and Jacobsen, IP 2012, Ecological risk assessment of the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park: Technical report, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville.
  16. 16 Coles, R, Grech, A, Dew, K, Zeller, B and McKenzie, L, 2008, A preliminary report on the adequacy of protection provided to species and benthic habitats in the east coast otter trawl fishery by the current system of closures, Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  17. 17 Broadhurst, MK, Macbeth, WG, and Wooden, MEL 2005, Reducing the discarding of small prawns in NSW’s commercial and recreational prawn fisheries, FRDC project 2001/031 final report, New South Wales Fisheries, Cronulla.
  18. 18 Courtney, AJ, Campbell, MJ, Tonks, ML, Roy, DP, Gaddes, SW, Haddy, JA, Kyne, PM, Mayer, DG and Chilcott, KE 2014, Effects of bycatch reduction devices in Queensland’s (Australia) deepwater eastern king prawn (Melicertus plebejus) trawl fishery, Fisheries Research, 157: 113–123.
  19. 19 Courtney, AJ, Schemel, BL, Wallace, R, Campbell, MJ, Mayer, DG, M and Young, B 2010, Reducing the impact of Queensland’s trawl fisheries on protected sea snakes, FRDC project 2005/053 final report, Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Brisbane.
  20. 20 Courtney, AJ, Tonks, ML, Campbell, MJ, Roy, DP, Gaddes, SW, Kyne, PM and O’Neill, MF 2006, Quantifying the effects of bycatch reduction devices in Queensland’s (Australia) shallow water eastern king prawn (Penaeus plebejus) trawl fishery, Fisheries Research, 80: 136–147.
  21. 21 Roy, D and Jebreen, E 2011, Extension of Fisheries Research and Development Corporation funded research results on improved bycatch reduction devices to the Queensland East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery, FRDC Project 2008/101 final report, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.
  22. 22 Montgomery, SS 1990, Possible impacts of the greenhouse effect on commercial prawn populations and fisheries in New South Wales, Wetlands (Australia), 10: 35–39.
  23. 23 Pecl, GT, Ward, T, Doubleday, Z, Clarke, S, Day, J, Dixon, C, Frusher, S, Gibbs, P, Hobday, A, Hutchinson, N, Jennings, S, Jones, K, Li, X, Spooner, D and Stoklosa, R 2011, Risk assessment of impacts of climate change for key marine species in south eastern Australia, Part 1: Fisheries and aquaculture risk assessment, FRDC Project 2009/070, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Tasmania.
  24. 24 Courtney, AJ, Kienzle, M, Pascoe, S, O'Neill, MF, Leigh, GM, Wang, Y-G, Innes, J, Landers, M, Braccini, M, Prosser, AJ, Baxter, P, Sterling, D and Larkin, J 2012, Harvest strategy evaluations and co-management for the Moreton Bay Trawl Fishery, Seafood CRC Project 2009/774 final report, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Brisbane.

Archived reports

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