Extending throughout Queensland’s East Coast, approximately 70 per cent of this fishery occurs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the commercial fishery comprises several sectors.
The largest of these in the Marine Park is the tiger and endeavour prawn fishery conducted mainly between Cape York and Cape Conway (south of Airlie Beach) in the lagoonal areas of Marine Park.
The northern king prawn fishery occurs mainly in waters north of Shoalwater Bay and operates in near-reef areas and inter-reefal gutters. Banana prawns are caught in shallow inshore areas adjacent to major estuaries.
Apart from prawns, the fishery also targets saucer scallops (in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park) and bugs (for example: Moreton Bay Bugs).
Some 60 additional species of molluscs, crustaceans and finfish are retained as limited by-product.
The fishery is managed by Fisheries Queensland and came under formal management arrangements in 1999 through the introduction of a Trawl Plan that was subsequently reviewed.
This plan was subsequently reviewed and more stringent management arrangements were introduced in January 2001.
Effort was capped through the allocation of effort quota in the form of tradeable effort units, based on an operator’s fishing history in the fishery.
There were also major closures (some 96 000 km2) of previously untrawled grounds. A $20 million structural adjustment program was offered to buy-out 99 licences, in what was considered an overcapitalised fishery.
The number of vessels fishing this fishery has declined significantly from its peak in the early 1980s, when some 1400 operators were licensed to fish.
As a result of structural adjustment in the fishery, there are now only 450 operators in the fishery. Of these, about 400 operate in the Marine Park, landing around 6000 tonnes of product annually estimated at about $80 million.
Trawling is permitted only in the General Use (Light Blue) Zone of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Fisheries Queensland applies restrictions on gear, areas and times of access and size and possession limits on the take of certain species.
All trawl vessels operating in the fishery are monitored via a satellite-based Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), which allows management agencies to locate a boat’s position at any time.
A major issue with demersal (seafloor) trawling is the large amount of unwanted by-catch and the physical impact on the seabed.
All vessels must carry turtle excluder devices and by-catch reduction devices to minimise the by-catch and benthic impact of trawling.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Fisheries Queensland and the Queensland Seafood Industry Association are working together to review the available ecological information on the fishery.