Prawn industry 'safe'

DESPITE a “high exploitation” rate the school prawn industry on the Clarence River is sustainable according to a report from the Department of Primary Industries.

The four-year study was undertaken to assess the health of school prawn stocks, and in particular to learn how fast prawns grow, as well as how many die from natural causes and fishing. It looked at school prawn population s in the Clarence River and in the Wallis Lake, near Taree.

“Our work has shown that while the school prawn fishery has definitely been heavily exploited, if things remain at current levels, it is sustainable,” lead scientist Dr Steve Montgomery said.

“This study has provided the first detailed estimates of growth and mortality for New South Wales school prawn stocks, and enabled the department to assess the impact of fishing activities on school prawn stocks.”

John Harrison of the Professional Fishermen's Association welcomed the research.

“We have been saying this for a long time. It has always been our view that the prawn industry is sustainable,” he said.

“But the public needs to hear that the industry is sustainable from a scientific perspective.

"It is important the public knows we can keep producing prawns for years to come.”

Dr Montgomery said more than 21,000 prawns were tagged and released on the Clarence River and Wallis Lake as part of the research.

“With the help of fishermen and the public we were able to track how much they had grown and how many died,” he said.

It was found most deaths in prawn populations were from natural causes rather than fishing.

“But records (also) show that at times fishing on school prawns can account for at least 50% of the mortality,” Dr Montgomery said.

The research by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation was for the Department of Primary Industry.

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