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Calls to reverse decision to allow fishing of giant Australian cuttlefish in the Spencer Gulf

Michelle Etheridge, July 1, 2020 6:45PM The Messenger

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Giant Australian cuttlefish aggregation off the coast of Whyalla in the Spencer Gulf, SA. Picture: Scott Portelli media_cameraGiant Australian cuttlefish aggregation off the coast of Whyalla in the Spencer Gulf, SA. Picture: Scott Portelli


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Pressure is increasing on the South Australian government to reverse a decision allowing fishing of Whyalla’s giant cuttlefish in the Spencer Gulf.

Hundreds of thousands of the giant Australian cuttlefish (scientific name Sepia apama) congregate* in the area each year to spawn*, the only place in the world this happens.

More than 4600 people have signed an online petition calling for cephalopods* to again be protected as thousands of the animals are believed to have been caught as they move in and out of their breeding area at False Bay.

A separate petition is also circulating in the town – to be tabled* in parliament by MP* Eddie Hughes – as fears grow about the future of the species and the impact the changes will have on the number of tourists who come to see their annual spawning aggregation*.

Until a few weeks ago, the northern Spencer Gulf was a no-take zone for the cuttlefish.

But while a protection area still exists for False Bay, the SA government has allowed fishing outside this area following an increase in the species’ population.

Commercial dive operator Tony Bramley said it was “ridiculous” that the region’s marine attraction, which has gained worldwide attention, was being compromised* by allowing fishing next door.

Mr Bramley believes tens of thousands of the animals have already been fished from the area since the changes came into place.

“Where (divers) stay in the Lighthouse Cottages, they’re looking down at fishing boats black with ink. It doesn’t look like we’re serious about conserving this amazing spectacle*,” he said.

media_cameraGiant Australian cuttlefish aggregation off the coast of Whyalla, SA. Picture: Scott Portelli
media_cameraGiant Australian cuttlefish off the coast of Whyalla in the Spencer Gulf. If you look closely you can see many more in the background. Picture: Scott Portelli

Mr Bramley said the northern Spencer Gulf protection zone was introduced in 2013 after the population size plummeted*. The government says there are no longer sustainability concerns over the population, and last year’s count was 114,596.

“It’s very frustrating to have the Primary Industries (Minister) allowing fishing when we don’t know what happened last time – there’s no science to explain why the numbers almost disappeared in 2013,” he said.

“We’ve got an obligation* to the rest of the world to make sure that we don’t lose this aggregation. This only happens here – one spot on this planet.”

Mr Hughes also believed thousands of the animals had been fished so far and was seeking more information from the government.

“A handful of commercial operators are getting the benefit at the expense of something that attracts worldwide attention,” Mr Hughes said.

“When you’ve got documentary-makers turning up to Whyalla to look at this, you think, why are you exploiting* this aggregation?

“We’ve had hundreds of divers there on a weekend and during the week and that pumps a fair amount of money into the economy.”

media_cameraSnorkelling with giant Australian cuttlefish in the Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park, SA. Picture: South Australian Tourism Commission

Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone said the government used the best available scientific advice to inform its decision-making “in the best interests of healthy fish stocks and all South Australians who rely on them”.

He said there were no longer sustainability concerns for the cuttlefish, and fishing had a negligible* impact on the population as long as the False Bay permanent closure was in place.

“The annual SARDI scientific monitoring program indicates the species’ abundance* in the northern Spencer Gulf region has remained high over the past five years, exceeding 110,000 individuals a year with 114,596 cuttlefish recorded in 2019,” Mr Whetstone said.

“The SARDI scientists have just completed their 2020 survey, with results pending* later in the year. Anecdotally* from dive operators and fishers, this year’s spawning population appears very healthy.”

Mr Whetstone said there were strict reporting requirements for the fishing sector*.

“Fishers provide catch data monthly in arrears* and this information will be assessed by the working group to help inform cuttlefish management for 2021.”

Scuba diving with cuttlefish

They are the world’s largest cuttlefish. The mantle* can be up to 50cm long and overall length can be up to 1m.

They are expert at colour change and camouflage, able to change colour in an instant, and by raising parts of their skin. They can also change shape and texture to imitate rock, sand or seaweed. These displays may be used for camouflage, mating or even hypnotising prey.

They live in southern coastal waters of Australia, as far north as Moreton Bay (Qld) on the east coast and on the west coast up to Ningaloo Reef (WA).

They spawn from April to September, with a peak spawning period of May-June. Spectacular mass spawning occurs in the Spencer Gulf (SA) in small patches of rocky reefs.

Source: Australian Museum


  • congregate: gather together
  • spawn: release eggs
  • cephalopods: group of animals that includes octopus, squid and cuttlefish
  • tabled: registered in parliament so it can be discussed or voted on
  • MP: Member of parliament
  • aggregation: gathering, massing
  • compromised: reduced or damaged
  • spectacle: a great sight
  • plummeted: fell or reduced very quickly
  • obligation: duty
  • exploiting: using something up, taking advantage of a plentiful supply
  • negligible: so little it’s almost zero
  • abundance: lots of something
  • pending: waiting for it
  • anecdotally: from stories and or accounts, rather than measured data
  • sector: section, such as of an economy
  • arrears: after it has happened
  • mantle: main body


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  1. What species is this story about? List three facts about it.
  2. Why don’t some people want the cuttlefish caught?
  3. Why do some people believe it’s okay to fish for them?
  4. How big do they grow?
  5. When is the peak spawning period?


1. Who’s interested?
When we read news stories like this one​, it is important for us to think critically about whose point of view is being presented, what their interest is in what is happening, and whether there are any sides of the story that we have not heard. This can help us to better understand the story and form our own opinions or prompt us to try to find out more.

Answer the following questions about the story:

  1. Name each of the individuals whose opinions have been presented in the story. Give one sentence to summarise each of their opinions. Explain why you think each of these people cares about this topic.
  2. Can you think of any other individuals or groups that might have a strong opinion about this topic? Who are they and what do you think they would want to say or have happen?
  3. What questions does this story leave you with – what else do you want to know about it?

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
What rules and regulations do you think are needed to reach a compromise that would best satisfy all sides? Formulate and write down a plan that you think takes into account the wants and needs of everybody involved in this debate. 

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Critical and Creative Thinking; Ethical Understanding

Save Our Cephalopods
Write an article to the SA government (for instance, to the Primary Industries Minister), convincing them to protect the giant cuttlefish.

Include facts from the article, as well as your personal opinion, complete with emotive and persuasive language.

Focus on powerful openers that draw in the reader’s attention and follow through with strong arguments that are clear and well considered.

Remember to read your work aloud to a partner to help check the fluency and clarity of the piece before finalising it.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think fishing of giant cuttlefish should be allowed?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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