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Biological and economic management strategy evaluations of the eastern king prawn fishery

Project Number:



Department of Agriculture and Fisheries EcoScience Precinct

Principal Investigator:

Tony J. Courtney

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:





Stock assessment of the EKP fishery, and the subsequent advice to management and industry, could be improved by addressing a number of issues. The recruitment dynamics of EKPs in the northern (i.e., North Reef to the Swain Reefs) parts of the fishery need to be clarified. Fishers report that the size of the prawns from these areas when they recruit to the fishing grounds is resulting in sub-optimal sizes/ages at first capture, and therefore localised growth overfishing. There is a need to assess alternative harvest strategies of the EKP fishery, via computer simulations, particularly seasonal and monthly or lunar-based closures to identify scenarios that improve the value of the catch, decrease costs and reduce the risk of overfishing, prior to implementing new management measures. The project is highly relevant to FRDC priorities and directly addresses the FRDC R&D 2005-2010 Plan, namely Program 1 Natural Resources Sustainability, Challenge 1 – Natural Resource Sustainability “Maintain and improve the management and use of aquatic natural resources to ensure their sustainability”. The proposal directly addresses the QFIRAC 2007 R&D priorities for Trawl Fisheries which specifically refer to “Undertaking management strategy evaluations for the Eastern King Prawn fishery, particularly the potential for seasonal closures…”. It also addresses the Queensland TrawlMAC “high” research priorities in relation to improving our understanding of the stock-recruitment relationships and undertaking management strategy evaluations. In summary, there is a strong need for this project, which addresses the high research priorities identified by FRDC, QFIRAC and the Queensland TrawlMAC. It is focused on Queensland’s most valuable fished stock, eastern king prawns.


1. Investigate the recruitment dynamics of eastern king prawns in their northern-most distribution (i.e., the North Reef-Swain Reefs area).

2. Undertake an economic analysis of the eastern king prawn fishery and determine the optimum yield and effort for profitability.

3. Develop (computer) models of the eastern king prawn fishery that evaluate alternative harvest strategies, as identified by the fishery managers and fishers, and provide advice on the efficacy of each strategy in achieving biological and economic management objectives.

Final Report - 2008-019-DLD - Biological and economic harvest evaluations of the eastern king prawn fishery

Final Report
Author(s):Tony Courtney
Date Published:April 2014

​Principal Investigator: Tony Courtney

Key Words: eastern king prawn, Melicertus plebejus, recruitment, tag-recapture, fishery economics, maximum sustainable yield, MSY, maximum economic yield, MEY, EMSY, harvest strategy evaluations, fishing power, generalised linear model, GLM, linear mixed models.

Summary: To date, these are the main outcomes achieved by this project:

  • Eastern king prawns (EKP, Melicertus plebejus) are a valuable commercially-fished stock
    in Queensland and New South Wales, with a total annual landed value of about $45
    million. An important outcome of the project was that it initiated a series of steering
    committee meetings that were made up of commercial fishers, GBRMPA, fishery
    economists, fishery managers and scientists from both states to focus on the fishery’s
    performance, stock assessment and management. The project promoted collaborative
    research, assessment and management of the fishery.
  • In its northern distribution (i.e., 22–24oS) the fishery is located over 100 km from the
    coast and the source of prawns caught in this area has been unknown. The study
    concluded the prawns most likely recruit from offshore reefs associated with the
    Capricorn-Bunker Islands. As a result, fishers and managers are now in a stronger
    position to develop and implement management measures, including closures, in this part
    of the fishery.
  • Fishing power in the EKP fishery was found to have increased by 52% from 1989 to
    2010, highlighting the need to take fishing power changes into account when reporting
    long-term trends in catch rates, assessing the stock and forecasting catch rates and
    biomass estimates.
  • The project derived a new quantitative description of growth for M. plebejus by utilizing
    all available tag-recapture data from Queensland and New South Wales. Latitudinal and
    seasonal effects on growth were quantified. Growth rate falls to a minimum in winter,
    peaks in summer and declines with increasing latitude. This new description improves
    the accuracy of stock assessment and modeling of harvest strategies.
  • An economic survey of the Queensland EKP fishery provided information on fixed and
    variable costs, total invested capital, gross value of product, average boat gross margin
    and total vessel costs. The data are used to comment on the profitability and economic
    viability of the fishery.
  • The project evaluated 18 management scenarios put forward by fishers and managers
    from both states. These included one-monthly trawl closures, a cap on total fishing effort,
    and within-year catch rate control rules, as well as assumptions about annual increases in
    operational costs and fishing power.
  • The project identified how profitability and sustainability of the EKP fishery could be
    improved by deriving estimates of MEY and EMEY. The results were presented to
    industry and managers at steering committee meetings. If current fishing costs remain
    steady or increase, total effort levels between 7000 and 20,000 boat-days will produce
    higher profit.