Eastern School Prawn (2023)

Metapenaeus macleayi

  • Matthew D. Taylor (New South Wales Department of Primary Industries)
  • Brad Zeller (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)

Date Published: June 2023

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Eastern School Prawn fisheries occur along the east coast of Australia and Victoria. Stock status is sustainable in QLD and NSW, and is classified as undefined in VIC.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Queensland Queensland Sustainable

Catch, effort, nominal catch rate, risk assessment

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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 evidence for some minor genetic differentiation of Eastern School Prawn in the Tweed River and Noosa River from Eastern School Prawn in other estuaries, but estuaries within New South Wales appear to be generally genetically homogenous [Mulley and Latter 1981]. No genetic information is available for Victorian populations.

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

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Stock Status


Biomass and fishing pressure evidence for the status of Eastern School Prawn in Queensland has primarily been derived from the River and Inshore Beam Trawl Fishery (RIBTF), which targets this species. Eastern School Prawn catch and effort within the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery are generally lower and more opportunistic but, in some years, (e.g., 2009–10, 2020–21 and 2021–22), comprise more than 69% of the Eastern School Prawn total catch and 42% to 93% of Eastern School Prawn total effort, with catch rates at historical highs. These increases appear to occur when an extended period of below average freshwater flows in major southern coastal Queensland streams is replaced by well above average flows of shorter duration [BoM 2022]. Stronger flow-mediated recruitment from a major NSW estuary to the adjacent ocean trawl fishery has been reported for this species [Glaister 1978; Ives et al. 2009].  

Annual catches in the RIBTF were higher during the period 1990–2010 with the fishery reporting an average of 70 t of Eastern School Prawn catch each year. This period though included several high-catch years with operators harvesting more than 100 t of Eastern School Prawns in 1991, 1995, 2004, 2005, and 2010. The mean annual catch (8 t) in recent years (2011–22) is well below the long-term 1990–2022 average (48 t). Nominal catch rates for Eastern School prawns in the RIBTF have displayed a high degree of inter-annual variability. This is particularly evident in the post-2011 period where nominal catch rates ranged from just 6 kg per day in 2016 to 214 kg per day in 2019. Across this period, the average nominal catch rate for Eastern School Prawns was 110 kg per day compared to the historical average of 72 kg per day (1990–2010). In 2021–22, the RIBTF catch rate was higher at 145 kg per day.    

While noting the above variability, a weight-of-evidence approach indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. Further, Eastern School Prawn inhabit numerous estuarine habitats in Queensland and a portion of this biomass remains unfished, with fishing effort being confined to accessible sections of larger river systems due to vessel size. This provides the Queensland Eastern School Prawn stock with additional protection from trawl fishing activities.  

Fishing effort (days fished) declined steadily over the history of the RIBTF attributed to management reforms. For example, several licence reduction schemes have been implemented in this fishery since 2009. These had a direct and substantial effect on participation rates and effort levels [Walton et al. 2019]. After fluctuating at or around an annual average of 928 days fished (1990–2010), Eastern School Prawn fishing effort in the RIBTF decreased to an average of 280 days fished per year (2011–13) then averaged 113 days fished per year (2014–22). An ecological risk assessment established that Eastern School Prawn had a high resilience to RIBTF fishing pressure [QDAF 2018] and found that the species was at a low risk of being overfished at the 2009 level (760 days, 20 boats). In 2022, RIBTF fishing effort and number of licences reporting catch were substantially less than the 2009 level (64 days, 6 boats). The current low level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, Eastern School Prawn in Queensland is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Eastern School Prawn biology [Ruello 1971, Taylor and Johnson 2021]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Eastern School Prawn

Male 32 months, 32 mm CL; Female 32 months, 35 mm CL

Male 23 mm CL; Female 27 mm CL

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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Eastern School Prawn

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Fishing methods
Beam Trawl
Otter Trawl
Cast Net
Cast Net
Dip Net
Beach Seine
Management methods
Method Queensland
By-catch reduction devices
Effort limits
Limited entry
Spatial closures
Temporal closures
Vessel number restrictions
Bag limits
Boat limits
Gear restrictions
Possession limit
Commercial 108.54t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown

Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) for more information see Traditional fishing | Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland (daf.qld.gov.au) 

Queensland – Commercial (Catch). QLD commercial and charter data are sourced from the commercial fisheries logbook program. Further information available through the Queensland Fisheries Summary Report.

New South Wales – Commercial (Management Methods) Size limit – Prawn counts apply to commercial fisheries in NSW and serve as a proxy to size limit.

New South Wales – Indigenous (Management Methods) see https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/aboriginal-fishing.

New South Wales – Recreational (Catch) Murphy et al. [2020].

Victoria – Indigenous (Management Methods) A person who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is exempt from the need to obtain a Victorian recreational fishing licence, provided they comply with all other rules that apply to recreational fishers, including rules on equipment, catch limits, size limits and restricted areas. Traditional (non-commercial) fishing activities that are carried out by members of a traditional owner group entity under an agreement pursuant to Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 are also exempt from the need to hold a recreational fishing licence, subject to any conditions outlined in the agreement. Native title holders are also exempt from the need to obtain a recreational fishing licence under the provisions of the Commonwealth’s Native Title Act 1993.

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Catch Chart

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

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  1. Bureau of Meteorology Hydrologic Reference Stations 2022, Average annual streamflow anomaly plots, Queensland Logan-Albert Rivers and South Coast Basins.
  2. Glaister, J, 1978, The Impact of River Discharge on Distribution and Production of the School Prawn Metapenaeus macleayi (Haswell) (Crustacea : Penaeidae) in the Clarence River Region, Northern New South Wales, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 29: 311-23.
  3. Glaister, JP 1978, Impact of river discharge on distribution and production of School Prawn Metapenaeus macleayi (Haswell) (Crustacea-Penaeidae) in Clarence River region, northern New South Wales. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 29: 311-323
  4. Haddon, M 2018, simpleSA: A package containing functions to facilitate relatively simple stock assessments. R package version 0.1.18.
  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. Mulley, J, Latter, B 1981, Geographic differentiation of eastern Australian penaeid prawn populations, Marine and Freshwater Research, 32: 889–895.
  7. Murphy, JJ, Ochwada-Doyle, FA, West, LD, Stark, KE and Hughes, JM 2020, The NSW Recreational Fisheries Monitoring Program - survey of recreational fishing, 2017/18. NSW DPI - Fisheries Final Report Series No. 158
  8. Pinto, U, 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.
  9. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 2018, 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.
  10. Racek, AA 1959, Prawn investigations in eastern Australia, State Fisheries Research Bulletin, 6: 1–57.
  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. Ruello, NV 1971, Some aspects of the ecology of the school prawn Metapenaeus macleayi in the Hunter region of New South Wales. MSc Thesis, University of Sydney
  13. Ruello, NV 1973, Influence of rainfall on distribution and abundance of school prawn Metapenaeus macleayi in Hunter River Region (Australia), Marine Biology, 23: 221–228.
  14. Taylor, MD 2023, Status of Australian Fish Stocks 2022—NSW Stock Status Summary—Eastern School Prawn (Metapenaeus macleayi).
  15. Taylor, MD, and Johnson, DD 2022, Adaptive spatial management to deal with postflood inshore bycatch in a penaeid trawl fishery. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 42: 334-342.
  16. Walton, L, Jacobsen, I, and Zeller, B 2019, River and Inshore Beam Trawl Fishery Scoping Study. Technical Report. State of Queensland, Brisbane.

Downloadable reports

Click the links below to view reports from other years for this fish.