Eastern School Prawn

Metapenaeus macleayi

  • Matthew Taylor (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)
  • James Andrews (Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, Victoria)
  • Megan Leslie (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
Victoria Victoria ITF Undefined Catch
Inshore Trawl Fishery (VIC)
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Stock Structure

Eastern School Prawn fisheries occur along the east coast of Australia, in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Genetic work on the biological stock structure of this species is limited. There is some evidence for genetic differentiation between populations occurring from Tweed Heads northward (north of the Noosa River and Tweed River) and those from estuaries in New South Wales (estuaries within New South Wales were genetically homogenous)1. Little genetic information is available for Victorian populations.

As a result of uncertainty regarding the biological stock structure of Eastern School Prawn, here assessment of stock status is presented at the jurisdictional level—Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

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Stock Status


Between 2000 and 2008, the annual catch for Eastern School Prawn in Victoria averaged about 9 t (range 1–20 t). From 2008 onwards catches increased, reaching 50 t by 2012 and a historical peak of 76 t in 2015. These higher catches may represent the start of an upward trend related to increasing water temperatures and a climate-driven southwards shift in distribution, as noted under the environmental effects below.

Nearly all the catch is landed by vessels belonging to the Inshore Trawl Fishery and since 2008 the maximum number of vessels participating in this fishery was 12. The average effort by the fleet since 2000 was 160 days per year and this has been exceeded consistently since 2010. The relatively low but variable levels of catch are likely to reflect targeting of the species when prawns are more available to trawlers and market prices are favourable. For this reason, catch rate is not a reliable proxy for abundance. In the absence of reliable estimates for current biomass and sustainable yield, there is insufficient information available to confidently classify the status of this stock.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, Eastern School Prawn in Victoria is classified as an undefined stock.

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Eastern School Prawn biology6

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Eastern School Prawn Male: 32 months; 32 mm CL Female: 32 months; 32 mm CL Male: 97 mm TL Female 132 mm TL
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Eastern School Prawn

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Fishing methods
Otter Trawl
Coastal, Estuary and River Set Nets
Beach Seine
Coastal, Estuary and River Set Nets
Beach Seine
Management methods
Method Victoria
Limited entry
Spatial closures
Vessel number restrictions
Bag limits
Bag limits
Possession limit
Recreational fishing licence
Commercial 75.77t in ITF
Indigenous Zero
Recreational Unknown
Inshore Trawl Fishery (VIC)

a Queensland – Indigenous Under the Fisheries Act 1994 (Qld), Indigenous fishers in Queensland are entitled to use prescribed traditional and non-commercial fishing apparatus in waters open to fishing. Size and possession limits, and seasonal closures do not apply to Indigenous fishers. Further exemptions to fishery regulations may be applied for through permits.
b New South Wales – Commercial (management methods) Prawn counts apply to commercial fisheries in NSW and serve as a proxy to size limit.
c New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) 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 themselves.
d New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) 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.
e  Victoria – Indigenous In Victoria, regulations for managing recreational fishing are also applied to fishing activities by Indigenous people. Recognised Traditional Owners (groups that hold native title or have agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 [Vic]) are exempt (subject to conditions) from the requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence, and can apply for permits under the Fisheries Act 1995 (Vic) that authorise customary fishing (for example, different catch and size limits or equipment). The Indigenous category in Table 3 refers to customary fishing undertaken by recognised Traditional Owners. In 2015, there were no applications for customary fishing permits to access Eastern School Prawn.
f Victoria – Indigenous Subject to the defence that applies under Section 211 of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), and the exemption from a requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence, the non-commercial take by indigenous fishers is covered by the same arrangements as that for recreational fishing.

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Catch Chart

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

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Effects of fishing on the marine environment

  • Prawn trawling causes a physical disturbance of the seafloor8, and interacts with benthic communities9. A comprehensive study in the Clarence River estuary did not find any significant impacts of estuarine prawn trawling on benthic assemblages10.
  • Non-target species caught incidentally by trawl nets are generally discarded, either because they have low market value or are not permitted to be retained. Bycatch consists mainly of small fish, crabs, other penaeid prawns, small Eastern School Prawn, and numerous other bottom-dwelling invertebrate species, including sponges, sea stars and gastropod shellfish.
  • Small Eastern School Prawn that escape from trawl codends generally have reasonable survival11, although trawl sorting time has a major effect on prawn survival following discarding12.
  • Various approaches have been adopted to reduce by-catch in prawn trawl fisheries, including various codend modifications13,14.
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Environmental effects on Eastern School Prawn

  • Climate change may have a significant effect on the distribution of this species. Under a scenario of increasing sea surface temperatures and a strengthening East Australian Current, the distribution of Eastern School Prawn is predicted to shift southwards, resulting in a southward shift in availability, potentially impacting the timing of spawning and migration for Eastern School Prawn and decreasing variability in their recruitment15. Recent reductions in northern catches and increases in southern catches may be evidence of such a shift.
  • Environmental models have also indicated that the growth and movement of Eastern School Prawn are affected by rates of river discharge, and that higher rates of river discharge may generate increased commercial catches and a higher stock biomass5.
  • Broader catchment condition can lead to changes in estuarine water quality, especially during times of high river discharge. Such changes have been shown to affect catches of Eastern School Prawn in temperate New South Wales16.
  • Production of prawn species is often positively correlated with the availability of key habitats in estuarine systems17.
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  1. 1 Mulley, J and Latter, B 1981, Geographic differentiation of eastern Australian penaeid prawn populations, Marine and Freshwater Research, 32: 889–895.
  2. 2 Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 2016, Queensland Stock Status Assessment Workshop 2016, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  3. 3 Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (in prep.), An ecological risk assessment of the East Coast Trawl Fishery in southern Queensland including the River and Inshore Beam Trawl Fishery, Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Brisbane.
  4. 4 Taylor, MD 2016, School Prawn (Metapenaeus macleayi), Status of fisheries resources in NSW, 2013–14, Taylors Beach, Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, pp 281–284.
  5. 5 Ives, MC, Scandol, JP, Montgomery, SS and Suthers, IM 2009, Modelling the possible effects of climate change on an Australian multi-fleet prawn fishery, Marine and Freshwater Research, 60: 1211–1222.
  6. 6 Racek, AA 1959, Prawn investigations in eastern Australia, State Fisheries Research Bulletin, 6: 1–57.
  7. 7 Rowling, K, Hegarty, A and Ives, M 2010, Status of fisheries resources in NSW 2008–09, New South Wales Industry and Investment, Cronulla.
  8. 8 New South Wales Fisheries 2003, Estuary Prawn Trawl Fishery: environmental impact statement, Cronulla Fisheries Centre, Cronulla.
  9. 9 Hutchings, P 1990, Review of the effects of trawling on macrobenthic epifaunal communities, Marine and Freshwater Research, 41: 111–120.
  10. 10 Underwood, AJ 2000, Assessment and management of potential impacts of prawn trawling on estuarine assemblages, Final report for Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 2000/176, University of Sydney, Sydney.
  11. 11 Broadhurst, MK, Barker, DT, Paterson, BD and Kennelly, SJ 2002, Fate of juvenile school prawns, Metapenaeus macleayi, after simulated capture and escape from trawls, Marine and Freshwater Research, 53: 1189–1196.
  12. 12 Macbeth, WG, Broadhurst, MK, Paterson, BD and Wooden, MEL 2006, Reducing the short-term mortality of juvenile school prawns (Metapenaeus macleayi) discarded during trawling, ICES Journal of Marine Science: Journal du Conseil, 63: 831–839.
  13. 13 Broadhurst, MK and Kennelly, SJ 1995, A trouser-trawl experiment to assess codends that exclude juvenile mulloway (Argyrosomus hololepidotus) in the Hawkesbury River prawn-trawl fishery, Marine and Freshwater Research, 46: 953–958.
  14. 14 Broadhurst, MK, Sterling, DJ and Millar, RB 2014, Configuring the mesh size, side taper and wing depth of penaeid trawls to reduce environmental impacts, PLoS ONE, 9: e99434.
  15. 15 Montgomery, SS 1990, Possible impacts of the greenhouse effect on commercial prawn populations and fisheries in New South Wales, Wetlands (Australia), 10: 35–39.
  16. 16 Pinto, U and Maheshwari, B 2012, Impacts of water quality on the harvest of school prawn (Metapenaeus macleayi) in a peri-urban river system, Journal Of Shellfish Research, 31: 847–853.
  17. 17 Meynecke, J-O, Lee, SY, Duke, NC and Warnken, J 2007, Relationships between estuarine habitats and coastal fisheries in Queensland, Australia, Bulletin of Marine Science, 80: 773–793. 

Archived reports

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