Cuttlefish numbers plummet

Whyalla's declining cuttlefish saga has received another blow this week with local divers revealing the lowest numbers yet.

In what should be the peak spawning season for the species, they are few and far between.

Local diver Chris Fewster said the shocking drop in numbers was confirmed on a dive two weeks ago.

"A fortnight ago we went for a dive, there were four people taking photos and out of that 90 minute dive, only four cuttlefish were seen," he said.

According to the Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA), mass cuttlefish spawning usually occurs in the False Bay area around the first week of May until the end of August.

Mr Fewster said another dive was conducted last week where they also recorded low numbers.

"Last Sunday we did another dive and we saw a population of about 15, but that is a really good bottom so there could be extra underneath the ledges," he said.

As an experienced diver, Mr Fewster said there used to be hundreds of cuttlefish in the area at this time of year.

"It is really concerning that there isn't anything there because that is usually a pretty good spot because of the type of bottom," he said.

The state government announced extended protection measures for the species earlier this year, prohibiting the fishing of cuttlefish from the northern Spencer Gulf area from March 28.

At the time, Minister for Fisheries Gail Gago said the temporary fishing closure added to the existing closures which were put in place around Point Lowly in 1998.

However, Mr Fewster said despite the protected area, people continued to fish for squid and octopus off the beach.

"People are either not aware or they are aware and just flouting the laws," he said.

In the past, divers have expressed their concerns that the government's precautionary measures have been left too late to make a significant difference and to save the endangered species.

"They had the opportunity to evoke the precautionary principle when the numbers were going down and they didn't do that," Mr Fewster said.

The precautionary principle identifies where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage and action should be taken regardless of full scientific certainty.

In relation to the Environmental Impact Statement currently being undertaken for the industrialisation of the Point Lowly Peninsula, Mr Fewster said he didn't believe it would have any further impact on the cuttlefish.

"The way I see it is if they put a jetty in there that would be a bigger protected area," he said.

"You would lose some land area, but I wouldn't like to see another area opened up to industrialisation down the coast just because it is out of sight and out of mind."

Mr Fewster said he believed the increased chance of oil spills with more ships in the area was unlikely to affect the cuttlefish population.

"It's just those large ships being in the gulf full stop," he said.

"They can bring in microrganisms on the hulls and if there is an oil spill the risk is the same.

"The oil spill will go backwards and forwards anyway very quickly."

Mr Fewster said he would like to see more people standing up for the cuttlefish, more public debate and more action taken.

"It is another income for this town, if it is managed properly and it puts a better slant on this community other than just a mining town," he said.

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