We studied the fortnightly, seasonal and annual variation in abundance of postlarval and juvenile Penaeus merguiensis in the Embley and Mission River estuaries (northeastern Australia) and of juveniles emigrating from the rivers between September 1986 and March 1992. The climate is tropical with distinct wet and dry seasons, and the pattern of salinity and temperature changes in the estuaries closely reflects this seasonal variation. Postlarval and juvenile prawns were caught for up to 8 mo of the year, from before the wet season to just after the wet season (October to May). There was a weak bimodal distribution of catches during this period but the pattern of variation was quite variable from year to year. There were also subtle differences in the seasonal patterns of abundance between the Embley and Mission Rivers, probably due to different impacts of wet season rainfall on the 2 estuaries. In the rivers, environmental variation explained very little of the variation in catches of planktonic postlarvae, benthic postlarvae and juveniles, but increased emigration of juveniles from the rivers was significantly correlated with increased rainfall. The main factor determining the abundance of juvenile P. merguiensis in the estuaries was the supply and successful settlement of postlarvae from offshore areas. The highest densities of prawns caught within the estuaries were near the upper reaches of small creeks rather than in the main rivers. It is likely that these differences are due to differential settlement patterns of postlarvae between the creek and the main river. Although the largest emigration of juvenile prawns from the estuaries occurred during the wet season, lower levels of migration of prawns from the creeks to the main rivers occurred throughout the year. Over the 6 yr of this project, the annual offshore commercial catch of adult P. merguiensis was significantly correlated with catches of prawns emigrating from the Embley River during the wet season.