Spencer Gulf prawns ready for the barbie

Spencer Gulf prawns ready for the barbie

The Spencer Gulf and West Coast prawn fisheries completed their pre-Christmas fishing period last week, with prawns to be ready for the festive season.

In what has been a difficult year for many industries and families, the fleet was able to continue with the season by using various mechanisms such as JobKeeper and cost-cutting to keep the crew engaged and income flowing for those involved in the fishery, including local contractors and trades.

Spencer Gulf and West Coast Prawn Fishermen's Association executive officer Simon Clark said the pre-Christmas period had injected optimism into the fishery ahead of the new year.

For the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified Spencer Gulf prawn fishery, it was the second and final fishing period prior to Christmas.

Mr Clark said the fleet reached the 425-tonne catch cap for the period within 15 nights of fishing, one night less than average.

"The fishery is very healthy. The survey result supporting the 425 tonnes was undertaken earlier than usual, in cooler winter temperature waters, which reduces prawn activity and catchability. Given the timing it was great to see there was a lot of prawns around," he said.

"The survey was conducted earlier than usual to enable the fleet to catch the product in time for the Christmas celebrations.

"Fishing activity is dictated by the dark of the moon [and] with the dark falling on the 15th of December it would have been too close to Christmas to distribute the product in time for the festive season."

Mr Clark said the fleet lost two nights due to bad weather, meaning they had to anchor in the Spencer Gulf as a precaution.

"Given the early fishing timeframe, the cooler than normal waters and the nights lost due to bad weather, the fleet did well to catch the 425 tonnes of good quality product," he said.

Mr Clark said the oceanic West Coast prawn fishery operated for nine nights in November and landed 16t of product, despite losing four nights of fishing due to bad weather over the dark of the moon phase.

"The three-vessel West Coast fishery has experienced lower catches over the past two seasons, which is thought to be driven by some relatively cold summers a couple of seasons ago and more bad weather than usually experienced, which has hampered prawn recruitment and catchability," he said.

"The cold water events generally align with extended El Nino events, which are associated with droughts.

"Given the fishery's experience of two previous fishing closures in the past 50 years of operation, they have put strategies in place to build resilience in the stock to recover more rapidly when recruitment has been impacted."

Mr Clark said one of the key strategies had been not to fish the Ceduna grounds, which were a significant recruitment area.

"Skippers reported after the last survey conducted at these grounds in March that they have never seen such large volumes of small prawns (600 prawns/seven kilograms), which is encouraging for the West Coast prawn fishery for the year ahead," he said.

"Feedback from the West Coast prawn fishery skippers was very positive following the recent trip.

"They feel the stock is improving with a good mix of grade sizes and consistent catch rates."

The Spencer Gulf prawn fishery is currently undertaking its third MSC re-certification process, which is scheduled for completion by the end of 2020.

MSC is an independent certification body that sets the international benchmark for sustainable fisheries' management, taking into account stock health, impact on the environment and other species, and robust governance structures.

This story Spencer Gulf prawns ready for the barbie first appeared on Port Lincoln Times.