Prawns fishing as a backpacker job – some facts

Prawns boat

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.

Talking money 

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:

  1. Releasing the prawns in the hopper
  2. Picking prawns at the conveyor
  3. Packing into boxes
  4. Weighting the boxes
  5. Transferring them into the Snap
  6. Transferring them within the freezer
  7. Unloading the boxes
  8. Preparing new boxes

The cook mainly works at the conveyor and prepares food (sometimes).

Prawns

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.

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.

8 thoughts on “Prawns fishing as a backpacker job – some facts

  1. Hello there, Thankyou so much for this post it’s the only real useful thing I’ve found. I’ve just been told recently that you can do this for farm work which is amazing as I’m so much more of a sea than land girl. I’m looking to do the season August-December and wondered if you have any extra information on were to go? I’m open to all areas of Australia, but currently in Sydney. Any information would so much appreciated, first time looking do fishing boat work, I’ve worked the super yachts and have loads of sea experience but never looked for fishing jobs and don’t know were to start. I can’t seem to find much info for were to head to.

    1. Hi Katy,

      yes you can do this kind of job for the work & holiday visa….it’s really rough though. You can try to contact the fisheries. They always look for workers. Good luck!

  2. i’am a fisheries observer here in the philippines, i have 3 years work experience in fishing boat, i’am very interested to work in prawn fishing and if you considered me you can contact me at my email josephbonaobra28@gmail.com.

  3. Very interested in shrimping. I have experience here in the Us shrimping and am not afraid to work. I have experience in shrimping, wreckfishing, swordfishing, bandit fishing, and oystering. Looking for something new

  4. Hello Heike!
    Great information, it help me to decide where to go when Arrived in Australia for W&H march 2018.

    It is nice to reed you and to know more about this type of experience, there is almost cero information about this industry potential for W&H travellers. Do you think it’s possible to get a sponsorship in this type of work? not sure if want to live in Australia but just wondering (I’m from Chile).

    Thanks and hope everything goes well for you.
    Kind regards,

      1. Thanks to you!

        Yes and for what I readed in your post probably would be a hard life to live if you stay in this job for more than a few months jaja.

        Whenever you want to visit Chile feel free to contact me, I would happy to share a beer and show you around Santiago.

        Greetings,
        jiopazos@gmail.com

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