The Northern Prawn Fishery targets prawns in northern Australian waters.

AFMA manages this fishery by limiting how many boats can fish and regulating the gear they can use. Closures are also used to restrict fishing during times and in certain areas.

To fish in this fishery, operators must hold boat and gear fishing rights that allow them to use a boat and certain sized nets to catch prawns.

About this fishery

Target species

Endeavour prawns (Metapenaeus endeavouri, M. ensis)

Blue endeavour prawn
Red endeavour prawn
This fishery is managed by setting the total amount of net that can be used in a season along with adjustments to the length of the fishing season. This is different to many other fisheries managed by AFMA where the fishery is managed by setting the total amount of allowable catch for each target species.

Gear allowance

Gear statutory fishing rights entitle the holder to use a net with a certain headrope and footrope length.

  • A gear right for operators using two nets is currently worth 9 cm of headrope length
  • A gear right for operators using three or four nets has a value of 8.1 cm per gear right.

Catch history

Historical catch (tonnes)
Species 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Banana prawns 3050 6245 3931 2904 5069
Tiger prawns 2215 1688 3168 2158 1087
Endeavour prawns 508 677 554 374 382

Download raw data on annual catches from AFMA catch disposal records and AFMA daily fishing logbooks.

Value of catch

$A 121.7 million (2016).

Fishing gear

Bottom trawl fishing gear is used in this fishery.

Read more about bottom trawl.


The Northern Prawn Fishery is located off Australia’s northern coast from Cape York in Queensland to Cape Londonderry in Western Australia.

Major landing ports

  • Cairns
  • Darwin
  • Karumba
  • Most of the catch is fresh frozen on-board and periodically transferred onto motherships at sea.

Markets supplied

Prawns are frozen fresh on-board and sold in Australian markets and export markets including Japan and China.

Fishing season

  • Season 1 (mainly banana prawns caught): 1 April – 15 June (season end date depends on catch rates)
  • Season 2 (mainly tiger prawns caught): 1 August – end of November (season end date depends on catch rates).

Management of catch

The Northern Prawn Fishery is managed through a series of controls, including:

  • a limit on the amount of net that can be used
  • a limit to the number of boats allowed to fish
  • requirements to use turtle excluding devices and bycatch reduction devices in all trawl nets
  • seasonal and area closures.

Licence to fish

Fishers must hold a valid boat fishing right to fish in this fishery. Fishers also need to have gear fishing rights that allow them to use a certain amount of net to catch fish in the fishery. These fishing rights are transferable to others.

In the fishery there are currently:

  • 52 boat fishing rights (maximum number of vessels active at one time)
  • 35 479 gear fishing rights.

Gear fishing rights entitle the holder to use a net with a certain headrope and footrope length. A gear right for operators using:

  • two nets is currently worth 9 cm of headrope length
  • three or four nets has a value of 8.1 cm per gear right.

Collecting data

Data about the catch and effort in the fishery is collected through the logbooks fishers have to fill out every time they fish. Logbooks record:

  • the species and amount caught
  • catch that is discarded
  • the catch/release of any protected species and its life status
  • set and haul times of each trawl event (shot)
  • the location of each shot
  • the type and amount of gear used.

Fishery closures

Seasonal closures to trawling serve a number of purposes. They ensure fishing occurs around times when prawns are most abundant and in the best condition for market. They also ensure enough prawns are available to breed.

Trawling is also banned during daylight hours for the second season to reduce the catch of egg-bearing female tiger prawns.

The first fishing season lasts for approximately 2.5 months. The second fishing season lasts for up to 4 months.

Cooperative management

AFMA and NPF Industry conducted a co-management trial in the fishery between 2009 and 2011.

The trial gave the industry a greater role in advising AFMA on operational and commercial matters in the fishery. The trial was a great success, resulting in NPF Industry Pty Ltd now being responsible for managing and organising:

  • data collection and management
  • a crew member observer program focusing on the impact on protected species
  • a fishery independent monitoring program
  • pre-season information sessions for crew.

Species sustainability

The status (health) of target species populations in the Northern Prawn Fishery is reported annually in the Fishery Status Reports compiled by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES). In 2015, species status were as follows:

  • white banana prawn – not subject to overfishing and not overfished
  • red-legged banana prawn – not subject to overfishing and not overfished
  • brown tiger prawn – not subject to overfishing and not overfished
  • grooved tiger prawn – not subject to overfishing and not overfished
  • blue endeavour prawn – not subject to overfishing and not overfished
  • red endeavour prawn – uncertain.

Species risk assessments

AFMA regularly monitors the effects of fishing activities upon marine species and habitats through ecological risk assessments. The assessment results help to prioritise the management, research, data collection and monitoring needs for the fishery.

After the risk assessment is complete, an ecological risk management strategy is developed to address how AFMA will manage the effects of fishing on marine species and habitats found to be at risk.

Go to the assessment and management report for the Northern Prawn Fishery.

Bycatch workplans

AFMA has a Northern Prawn Fishery Bycatch and Discarding Workplan.

The workplan outlines ways to minimise the catch of species at high risk from the fishery. These species can include threatened, endangered and protected species, some sharks and other non-targeted fish species.

Harvest strategy

A harvest strategy is used to help determine what the sustainable catch should be for the target species of the fishery. Fishing, environmental and economic information is included in the harvest strategy, which helps to monitor and maintain the sustainability of the targeted species and maximise economic returns from the fishery.

All harvest strategies are developed in line with the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and Guidelines.

Go to the Northern Prawn Fishery Harvest Strategy.

Export approvals

To export from an Australian commercial fishery, the fishery must be accredited by the Department of the Environment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This accreditation ensures that fisheries are managed in an ecologically sustainable way over time.

Environmental accreditation

In 2018 the Northern Prawn Fishery received Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) recertification following an independent assessment. The fishery has maintained certification since it was originally certified in 2012. MSC certification is a science based third-party assessment process that assesses fisheries against strict environmental standards for sustainable fishing. Through the assessment process the NPF has demonstrated that it is well-managed and a sustainable source of seafood. The fishery undergoes annual audits to ensure it continues to meet certification requirements. More information can be found on the MSC website.

Marine reserves

Commonwealth marine reserves are areas established under Australian environmental law to help conserve the spectacular marine life in our oceans. They support ecologically sustainable use of our marine resources and provide special places for people to enjoy and appreciate the fantastic diversity of our marine habitats.

Marine reserves are sometimes known as marine protected areas or marine parks and are managed by the Department of the Environment.

AFMA can ensure that no commercial fishery takes place in marine reserves because all commercial vessels are fitted with and monitored via a satellite tracking system.

More information about marine reserves can be found on the Department of the Environment website.

Fishing in the fishery

There are rules that fishers must meet when fishing in the Northern Prawn Fishery. These include but are not limited to:

  • holding a valid boat fishing right and gear fishing rights
  • using a vessel monitoring system
  • adhering to area and time based fishing closures
  • carrying a scientific observer when requested to do so
  • modifying gear to reduce catch of unwanted species.

Download a copy of the Northern Prawn Fishery Directions and Closures 2017 for Season 1 and Season 2 for a full description of all fishing requirements for this fishery.

Management plan

The Northern Prawn Fishery Management Plan 1995 outlines the area of the fishery, objectives, management controls and the granting of fishing rights.

AFMA recognises that managing fisheries involves a broad range of stakeholders including industry, scientists, environmental groups, the community and management.

Engaging with our stakeholders allows us to make informed decisions regarding fisheries management.

Fishing industry

Under co-management arrangements, the Northern Prawn Fishery Industry Pty Ltd is responsible for a number of functions including the management of catch and effort information, managing the crew member observer program and pre-season briefings.

Prior to each fishing season, the Northern Prawn Fishery Industry facilitates an information session to inform fishers of any new management arrangements that may impact their fishing activities. AFMA attends these sessions once a year which allows us to meet directly with fishers to discuss any concerns they might have, and also gain an understanding of current fishing trends and expected catches for the season.

The Northern Prawn Fishery Industry is also responsible for recruiting, training and supporting a crew member observer program. The program trains crew members in collecting valuable information on threatened species including sawfish, sea snakes, turtles, pipefish and other at risk species.

Northern Prawn Fishery Management Advisory Committee

The Northern Prawn Fishery Management Advisory Committee is the advisory body for the Northern Prawn Fishery. The committee includes expertise in the area of fisheries management (AFMA), fishing industry, science and environment.

The committee meets two or three times each year to discuss any problems relating to the fishery and advises AFMA on possible solutions.

See the Northern Prawn Fishery Management Advisory Committee webpage for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes from the committee.

Northern Prawn Fishery Resource Assessment Group

The Northern Prawn Fishery Resource Assessment Group provides research and scientific advice for the Northern Prawn Fishery. The group is composed of fishery scientists, fishing industry members, an economist and an AFMA member.

See the Northern Prawn Fishery Resource Assessment Group webpage for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes from this group.

Recreational fishing

Prawn harvest by the recreational and Indigenous sectors is believed to be negligible in northern Australia.

Government departments

AFMA works closely with other government departments, such as the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of the Environment and Energy. They help in providing advice and guidance on both domestic and international fisheries policy.

State governments

AFMA manages prawn fishing in the area of the Northern Prawn Fishery. There are also other state and Northern Territory fisheries that operate in the same area and target other species. AFMA regularly communicates with the state and Northern Territory fisheries agencies to manage any problems that might occur between fisheries.

A representative from the Queensland fisheries agency attends the Northern Prawn Fishery Management Advisory Committee meetings and provides input and advice.

Environmental non-government organisations

Representatives from environmental non-government organisations are engaged through several forums to provide advice on research and management issues. AFMA holds two to three environmental forums annually.

The map below shows the sea area that is included in the fishery.


AFMA uses many methods to monitor the compliance of fishing activities and collect data on fish stocks. These include:

Onboard observers

One of the main monitoring methods used by AFMA is onboard scientific observers. These observers are people employed by AFMA to go out on boats and independently record the catch, effort and biological information of each fishing trip.

They take samples from the catch for scientific analysis.

Observers also record the length, weight and sex of target species caught during a trip and report on the other wildlife, the weather conditions, the composition of commercial catch and the fate of species caught as bycatch.

Boats in the fishery must carry an AFMA observer when requested by AFMA.

Observer coverage in the Northern Prawn Fishery
Crew member observers962 days1038 days843 days1058 days893 days1169 days
Scientific observers167 days168 days117 days159 days103 days152 days

Read more about the Observer program.

Satellite tracking

A satellite monitoring system called a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), is fitted to each boat. This system helps AFMA to monitor vessel position, course and speed. The tracking unit regularly transmits the information through a communications satellite to a land earth station. This information is sent by secure internet connection to a database at AFMA.

Read more about our satellite tracking program.