BLASTING the coastline with the highest wind speed ever recorded on mainland Australia, Cyclone Vance destroyed habitats on both land and sea when it hit Exmouth in March 1999.
As stories filtered through of the wreckage left in Vance’s wake, the small community of Exmouth began the clean up after being all but wiped out.
Less known is the fact that the cyclone devastated the spawning stock of Exmouth Gulf’s key tiger prawn fishery.
While that year’s catch of mature tiger prawns managed to survive, the habitat of juvenile tiger prawns was not so lucky.
Since that time, recovering environmental conditions, solid fisheries management and a sustainable outlook by both government and industry has ensured that the Exmouth Gulf prawn fishery has recovered. In fact it has more than recovered; last year the fishery recorded its best tiger prawn catch in five years.
The average annual catch of tiger prawns from the Exmouth Gulf prawn fishery is between 350 tonnes and 450 tonnes, but last year’s catch reached 630t – a figure not seen since 1994.
MG Kailis holds 15 of the 16 prawning licences for the Exmouth Gulf and the group’s managing director, Alex Kailis, said that while another record catch was not likely due to the annual cycle of prawn fishing, the company was hopeful for another good year.
“All fishermen are optimists,” he said. “We believe the signs for this year are good.”
However, Mr Kailis said the impact of the rising Australian dollar was taking its toll.
“It [the rising Australian dollar] will impact on the whole fishing industry,” he said.
While the company had hedging in place that would provide some protection, Mr Kailis said worldwide commodity prices for seafood had created a very difficult outlook for many producers.
“We [the fishing industry] are wearing totally the impact of the Australian dollar.”
Department of Fisheries spokes-woman Dr Mervi Kangas said good environmental conditions was a major factor in years that produced increased numbers of prawns.
“Over the last few years the stocks have been rebuilding,” Ms Kangas said.
“We have monitored the recovery of seagrasses and algae, which provides good nursery environment for juvenile tiger prawns.We made sure that there was adequate spawning stock to provide the next year’s young.
“We have had a very conservative approach in terms of harvesting tiger prawns.”
Tiger prawns and king prawns are the two main species produced by the Exmouth Gulf prawn fishery.
While the number of tiger prawns has increased significantly in recent years, it has been the opposite for king prawns, which are in significant decline in all fisheries along the WA coast.
“King prawn catches are below average and have been for the last three years; we are currently trying to determine why,” Ms Kangas said.
“There are nine prawn fisheries along the WA coastline and all are experiencing a slight downturn in king prawn catches in the last year, so we think it might be environmental drivers.
“We do have some arrangements in place that, when king prawns reach a certain size, industry stops fishing them so they are not catching the next year’s spawning stock.
“We are now looking at ways we can ensure adequate spawning stock.”
“All fishermen are optimists. We believe the signs for this year are good.”
- Alex Kailis
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