Concerns over the future of snorkels

THUMBS DOWN: CuttleFest snorkelers weren't happy to miss out on the experience of seeing the unique Great Australian Cuttlefish.
THUMBS DOWN: CuttleFest snorkelers weren't happy to miss out on the experience of seeing the unique Great Australian Cuttlefish.

A snorkeling operator could be forced to cancel his planned cuttlefish snorkels for next year's Whyalla CuttleFest based on a recent experience at the Point Lowly Marina.

Carl Charter, co-founder of Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries (EMS), says his July 12 snorkel group moved to just outside the Point Lowly Marina after poor weather prevented them from snorkelling at Stony Point.

However the session eventually had to be canceled because the colourful Great Australian Cuttlefish members of the group had traveled hours to see weren't there.

Stony Point sits within the False Bay protected area where fishing of the cuttlefish is not permitted, however the plan 'B' site the group visited is no longer under any protections due to the state government lifting the fishing ban earlier this year.

Mr Charter said there was only one cuttlefish that was sighted near the marina, down significantly from the 50-100 seen in previous years.

EMS were forced to refund $5000 worth of tickets due to the incident, and Mr Charter says there's now a high level of risk involved in going ahead with next year's CuttleFest snorkels.

"The problem is if we get a sudden wind and have a big swell coming through Stony Point then there's nowhere to go because there won't be a plan 'B' site," he said.

"Before the fishing ban was lifted we could go there and people would still get their money's worth, but now you would have to cancel the whole event.

"We can't risk organising an event for 100 people per day and taking $5000 of ticket sales, then having to refund the whole lot just because of bad weather."

The lifting of the fishing ban also makes snorkeling in the areas outside of the protected zone more dangerous due to the presence of people actively fishing for cuttlefish in the area.

Whyalla Mayor Clare McLaughlin recently raised the issue of cuttlefish protection with Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, who agreed to pass on those concerns to the state government.

Member for Giles Eddie Hughes has also called for the ban to be reinstated, saying the damage to cuttlefish stocks in the Spencer Gulf could be 'irreparable'.

More than 7500 people have now signed petitions calling for the government's decision to be reversed and outlaw fishing of the cuttlefish in the Spencer Gulf.

However, the latest annual survey conducted by the South Australian Research Development Institute (SARDI) in June found the number of cuttlefish at Point Lowly had more than doubled from 2019.

According to SARDI, the population size is estimated to be around 247,000, and Primary Industries Minister David Basham says this is evidence the state government made the right choice.

"This is fantastic news and a welcome reflection of how our government has used the best available scientific information to inform our decisions to ensure healthy fish stocks and benefit all South Australians," he said.