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Reducing sawfish and sea snake bycatch in the Australia Northern Prawn fishery through gear modifications.

  • Analysis of observer data and catch data to identify differences in bycatch between individual vessels, fishing grounds, and fishing times and seasons.
  • Support the development and design of sawfish bycatch mitigation trials.

Start date: May 2023

AUD $86,100

(GBP £48,525) awarded

Grant type

Science and Research Fund


Australian Northern Prawn Fishery

Reducing sawfish bycatch

The Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF) – Australia’s largest and most valuable prawn trawl fishery – was first certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard in 2012.

Over the years, the fishery has worked hard to reduce its impacts on endangered, threatened and protected species, including elimination of turtle bycatch by 99%. However, further improvements are needed to reduce bycatch of sawfish, endangered species which are vulnerable to net entanglements due to their long, saw-like noses or rostrums.

Identifying mitigation measures to reduce sawfish interactions is a high priority for the fishery, as existing sawfish bycatch reduction devices are not as effective as desired by industry leaders.

Mitigation methods informed by science

The study, supported by the MSC’s Ocean Stewardship Fund, will advance understanding of how and when sawfish bycatch is occurring, and identify new mitigation methods.

The study will look for differences in bycatch rates between gear type and net mesh size, individual vessels, fishing grounds, and fishing seasons. Data from between 2012 and 2022 will be provided through the fishery’s Scientific Observer and Crew Observer programs and vessel logbooks, as well as interviews with current fishery operators.

“Identifying cost-effective solutions to reduce impacts of fishing on [endangered, threatened and protected species] ETP species will have positive benefits for populations in the Northern Prawn Fishery and potentially other fisheries which impact on ETP sawfish and sea snake species through knowledge sharing.”

Annie Jarrett, CEO Northern Prawn Fishery Industry Pty Ltd.

Developing new bycatch reduction trials

Findings from the study will support the design of a sawfish bycatch reduction trial. This aims to test different bycatch mitigation methods at sea, including different gear types and technologies such as underwater lights.

Assessing the impact of sea snake bycatch reduction devices

The study will also evaluate whether sea snake bycatch has been reduced following the fleet-wide addition of escape hatches to trawl nets in 2020.

Sea snake bycatch data from between 2015 and 2022 will be collated and analysed. This will establish whether the devices have successfully reduced bycatch, and whether there are differences in outcomes between individual vessels and fishing seasons.