Eastern King Prawn (2023)

Melicertus plebejus

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

Date Published: June 2023

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Eastern King Prawn is a sustainable species with a single connected stock along Australia’s eastern coastline.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Queensland Eastern Australia Sustainable

Biomass; catch, effort and CPUE relative to MSY reference points, Stock Assessment

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Stock Structure

Eastern King Prawn (Melicertus plebejus) is endemic to Australia. It occurs on the eastern Australian coast between Hayman Island in Queensland and north-eastern Tasmania (20–42°S) and exhibits strong stock connectivity throughout its range [Montgomery 1990]. Undertaking northward migrations into deeper water as they grow, Eastern King Prawn utilise the East Australian Current to disperse larvae southward after spawning in offshore areas [Montgomery 1990]. Eastern King Prawn are harvested in Queensland and New South Wales fisheries and are considered a single multi-jurisdictional biological stock [Courtney et al. 2014; Montgomery 1990]. 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). 

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

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Stock Status

Eastern Australia

The most recent assessment [Helidoniotis 2020] estimated that the spawning biomass of Eastern King Prawn in 2019 was 62% of the unfished 1958 levels. Maximum sustainable yield (MSY) was estimated at 2,423 tonnes (t). Catches have been consistently higher than this estimate for more than ten years. The stock is not considered to be recruitment impaired.

The stock assessment estimated effort at maximum sustainable yield (EMSY), standardised to the number of boat-days in the 2019 fishing year, to be 27,242 boat days/year [Helidoniotis 2020] which is similar to the 2010 estimate [O'Neill et al. 2014]. Standardised fishing effort was below this level for the 2021 fishing year (1 November 2020–31October 2021). The observed decline in effort since 2000 has been offset by increases in fishing power [Braccini et al. 2012]. The number of boats accessing the fishery has remained stable in Queensland since 2012 but has continued to decline in New South Wales. The above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.

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

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Eastern King Prawn biology [Courtney et al. 1995; Courtney et al. 1996; Lloyd-Jones et al. 2012]

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

More than 3 years, Males 52 mm CL, Females 73 mm CL

Females 42 mm CL

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Fishing methods
Otter Trawl
Cast Net
Management methods
Method Queensland
By-catch reduction devices
Effort limits (individual transferable effort)
Gear restrictions
Harvest Strategy
Limited entry
Processing restrictions
Seasonal or spatial closures
Vessel restrictions
Bag/possession limits
Gear restrictions
Seasonal or spatial closures
Commercial 2.14Kt
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown

Commercial (Catch). The 2021 fishing season for both jurisdictions is 1 November 2020 to 31 October 2021.

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].

Queensland – Indigenous (management methods). for more information see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/traditional-fishing

Queensland – Commercial (Catch). Queensland commercial and charter data has been sourced from the commercial fisheries logbook program. Further information available through the Queensland Fisheries Summary Report https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/monitoring-research/data/queensland-fisheries-summary-report  

Queensland – Commercial (Management Methods). Harvest strategies are available at: https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/sustainable/harvest-strategy   

Queensland – Recreational Fishing (Catch). Data with high uncertainty (Residual Error >50 %) has been excluded and listed as unknown. More information available at: https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/monitoring-research/monitoring-reporting/statewide-recreational-fishing-surveys   

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Catch Chart

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

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Helidoniotis, F 2020, Stock assessment of eastern king prawn (Melicertus plebejus), Technical Report, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, State of Queensland.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Downloadable reports

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