Northern Prawn Fishery: world class management

Australia’s Northern Prawn Fishery is recognised as a world leader in marine fishery management, thanks to a long-term partnership between the industry and CSIRO.

The Challenge

Economic and environmental efficiency

The Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF) is Australia's second most valuable Commonwealth fishery with a gross value of $65 million in 2011–12.

The key challenge with the fishery is to ensure it remains sustainable and can continue to benefit the economy into the future without harming the environment.

Our Response

Partnering with the fishing industry to improve decision making

Thanks to a strong research partnership between the industry, CSIRO and fishery managers that began in the 1960s, the NPF is now economically efficient and environmentally sustainable, winning praise from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation as a global model of fisheries management.

Australia’s Northern Prawn Fishery harvests banana prawns and tiger prawns in the Gulf of Carpentaria

Lessons learned from the fishery can be applied to other fisheries and resource management challenges in Australia and overseas.

A range of management tools and procedures developed in partnership with NPF Industry and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority guide monitoring, assessment, and decision-making for the fishery.

They include:

  • a formal harvest strategy that sets out management actions necessary to achieve biological and economic objectives, monitoring and assessment processes, and rules that control the intensity of fishing
  • a bio-economic model used to set harvest levels that maintain productive prawn stocks while maximising fishery returns
  • a management strategy evaluation framework that helps fishery managers compare potential management actions
  • two annual surveys to help estimate the volume and size composition of prawn stocks
  • Ecological risk assessments to support the fisheries environmental accreditation
  • a crew member observer program to collect information about threatened, endangered and protected species
  • permanent or seasonal closures to fishing designed to coincide with growing phases and to protect pre-spawning prawns.

The Results

Strong international markets and recognition

Science-based management the NPF has helped the fishery:

  • become certified Marine Stewardship Council, an independent body that certifies sustainable fisheries worldwide
  • market products that attract major Australian and export buyers
  • win praise from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization as a global model of fisheries management
  • implement a fleet consolidation to rebuild over-fished stocks and improve economic efficiency
  • reduce its ecological impact and secure Commonwealth Government environmental accreditation
  • establish co-management between NPF Industry Pty Ltd and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority
  • generate optimum profits for the Australian community.

The Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF) embraces ecosystem-based fisheries management, an approach that seeks to ensure the sustainability of the fishery ecosystem as well as commercial prawn species.

Science-based tools and approaches have helped the fishery achieve accreditation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and approval as a Wildlife Trade Operation.

Based on a deep understanding of the ecosystem and prawn life cycle, large areas of prawn nursery areas (seagrass beds and mangroves) and spawning grounds are permanently or seasonally closed to fishing.

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