Australia's wild-caught 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.

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

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 Northern Prawn Fishery is now economically efficient and environmentally sustainable, winning praise from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation as a global model of fisheries management.

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
  • 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 of 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 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.

Infographic explaining the Northern Prawn Fishery

Sustainable prawns three ways

Seafood lovers can rely on healthy supplies of prawns from Australia's Northern Prawn Fishery, thanks to a 50-year partnership between scientists, managers and fishers.

Together they ensure the fishery runs as efficiently as possible, with healthy prawn stocks and minimal impact on the ecosystem.

The fishery is certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, and serves as a global model of fisheries management.

Prawns

  • A deep scientific understanding guides assessment of prawn stocks and the fishery ecosystem.
  • Surveys to map prawn availability for fishers and help scientists predict catches in advance.
  • A harvest strategy sets an agreed path towards catching the most economic yield.

Ecosystem

  • Seagrass and mangrove nurseries and breeding areas are protected from fishing.
  • Escape hatches in trawl nets release turtles and other bycatch.
  • Crew members monitor threatened, endangered and protected species.

Economics

  • Optimumfishing levels set before each season match prawn stocks and economic conditions.
  • A relatively small,efficient fleet provides resilience to fluctuating prawn stocks, prawn prices and fuel costs.
  • Scientists model the pros and cons of management approaches.

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