What you should know about prawns fishing:
When obtaining a working holiday visa, most common backpacker jobs to be found are in farming or fruit picking. There are loads of them, so you get one easily and it will make you eligible for the second year visa. You would only need to proof that you worked in this field for three months in total.
Besides working in farming, there is also another option that can be taken into account for the second year visa most travellers don’t seem to know about: fishing.
The prawns seasons in the north of Australia
There are two seasons in prawns fishing in the gulf of Carpentaria, banana and tiger prawns. The first one starts in april and lasts ten weeks. The second starts in august and lasts four months. During banana you fish all the time while in the tiger prawns season you only fish at night. Therefore, banana season is considered to be the tougher fishing season than tigers but also promises you more money in a shorter time period.
Anybody can do a job as deckhand or cook. Woman are also hired mostly as cooks. But when there is a catch all hands are needed on deck. There are about 6 to 8 crew members per boat. Usually, the boats belong to a fleet own by companies that deal with the prawns on the market. Depending on the set price, the fishermen get a percentage of the catch. There are a lot of expenses to be paid beforehand. The food and the time spending on the boat cost you about 1.500 to 2.000 Australian dollars. So it’s a risk to take because you only get paid when you unload a good amount of prawns. The average outcome in tigers is about A$12.000 and A$15.000 for banana season for a deckhand. In a very good season it can even be something like A$30.000.
Processing the prawns
There is the huge hopper where all the net catches are released, the conveyor belt where the prawns are isolated from the rest and are released into the process room to get packed in boxes and then placed in the snap/blast freezer being set at minus 40 degree. Cruel conditions but good for a quick temperature drop. The freshly caught prawns stay in there for about 8 hours and then moved to another area in the freezer with only minus 30 degree to be stored until unload. So basically, as a deckhand you work at any of these stations:
- Releasing the prawns in the hopper
- Picking prawns at the conveyor
- Packing into boxes
- Weighting the boxes
- Transferring them into the Snap
- Transferring them within the freezer
- Unloading the boxes
- Preparing new boxes
The cook mainly works at the conveyor and prepares food (sometimes).
A lot of work in the banana season
If you go for the banana season you are faced with hard working conditions in the first couple of weeks. The reason is that there are a lot of prawns to catch in the beginning. Therefore, you work day and night doing physical work without much sleep, sometimes any. And since you are on open waters, you may even work during bad weather with huge waves pulling you in all directions. The good thing is, it is only for the first weeks. After, the work will get less hard because you don’t catch prawns all the time anymore and you can also enjoy the beauty of being out on sea.
How to get a job in prawns fishing
Go to one of the harbours, e.g. in Darwin around 15th to 25th of march where all the boats are getting prepared and ask around. It is also possible to contact the fleet management beforehand. You can check Raptis & Sons, the biggest company in the gulf.