Sustainable Spearfishing

By: Sean Ward

Fishing, hunting, and most notably, spearfishing, are all hobbies that have gotten a lot of flak in recent years. Many preservationists argue that it isn’t sustainable, but in reality, when done correctly, these pursuits are not only environmentally friendly but also ethical. Of course, there are certain guidelines and tips you will want to stick to while spearfishing to make sure you are as ethical as you can be. However, this pursuit can easily be a sustainable hobby that is enjoyed all over the world.

When considering spearfishing, it is important to be passionate about the hobby, but also open-minded. If you know someone who is opposed to spearfishing on ethical or sustainable grounds, be sure to initiate a conversation with them as to why. In most cases, caring for the ocean starts with how you live and the actions that you take. Be thoughtful of how you move and act in the water, both as you are spearfishing and also when you are not. 

Is Spearfishing Sustainable? Yes!

Spearfishing is one of the most sustainable methods of fishing for several reasons. First, it has the most selective catch by quantity, size, and species – there is no other kind of fishing for which there are more regulations than spearfishing. Fishing for large species with a speargun is often considered cruel and anti-ecological, shunned by conservationists as alpha men and women show off their latest “trophy catch” on social media. These images, touted by conservationists as unsustainable and unethical, are rare and not representative of the essence of spearfishing. 

In fact, the whole notion of spearfishing is to hunt for food in an efficient, tactical way. It is not meant to be done for sport or competition but to get food on the table. Ask most spearfishers why they hunt, and they’ll likely tell you that they are doing so to feed their families. 

Less than 1% of all fish harvested in the world is harvested with a speargun. This capture rate is much lower than other fishing techniques, particularly when you consider the impact of industrial pollution. It’s not shooting every fish that passes by – it is thinking carefully about which fish should be taken. Spearfishing poses the fewest associated environmental problems, too. It requires zero bait (so there’s no risk of accidental release or contamination with or of live bait) and there is no risk of gear loss or impact to non-targeted species. This hobby also poses the least risk to the surrounding underwater environment. Most spearfishers hunt at shallow waters and boats are typically not used. 

As long as the right gear is used and the right shots are taken (generally those that are precise, accurate, and well-targeted), there is no risk of the fish not being retrieved. For the most part, spearfishers are an ethical, conscientious bunch, only taking fish that they know is legal and ethical to spear. Spearfishing puts you in control of what you catch. There are no pollutants, no nets to tangle in underwater structures, and no inefficiencies. 

You can use spearfishing techniques that put you in direct control of what you target and in what numbers. Spearfishers work in shallow waters, so there tends to be minimal damage to habitat and minimal impact on non-target species. As long as you are proficient and conscientious in doing so, a spearfisher does far less harm to the environment than other types of fishing. 

Since spearfishers generally target big game fish, there are fewer fish taken from the waters. Although the fish taken are generally apex predators, there tends to be less of a disruption to the local ecosystem since fewer bodies are removed. 

Finally, many spearfishers are freedivers who have solid knowledge and cultural connections to the ocean. Many spearfishing regulations have been enacted based on the feedback of spearfishers themselves, who saw declines in local fish populations and wanted to do their part to help keep populations where they should be. 

How to Engage in Ethical, Sustainable Spearfishing

One of the most important things to bear in mind when you are spearfishing, as when you are doing any kind of fishing or hunting, is that it’s important to understand when you should hold back and avoid killing. There are certain shots you should never take. For example, if you aren’t sure what kind of species you are encountering or what local fisheries’ regulations might be, taking the shot is not appropriate. 

You should also apprise yourself of local size and bag limits for your chosen fish species as well as where you are permitted to spearfish. A good spearfisher will never pull the trigger if he or she is not sure if the fish is large enough – or even worse, if he doesn’t even know what kind of fish it is. 

Of course, it always pays to brush up on what species in the area are protected. If you don’t do this, you could not only harm the fragile ocean ecosystem, but you might be subjected to major fines, both for you and for anybody who is hunting with you. 

Here some are other tips you should follow to ensure the fish is killed in the most ethical, painless way possible. 

Most spearfishers will spike their catch with a dive knife if they don’t kill it with the initial shot. Leaving the fish alive is cruel and unethical. Not only that, but doing this can spell disaster for you and your dive buddies – the smell of the blood and the associated distress will attract sharks from quite a distance away. Do you really want sharks hovering around your catch? 

Want to know one of the best tips you can follow if you want to engage in sustainable spearfishing? Make sure you listen to the opinions, rights, and ethics of others – this will help inform your thoughts and guide you on the most ethical ways to go about your spearfishing passion.

Should I Eat My Catch?

This is a hot topic, one that is widely debated by sportsmen and women all over the world – is it ethical to hunt, fish, or spearfish if you don’t intend to eat the catch?

Most serious anglers will say that you should never shoot a fish that you do not intend to eat. Spearfishing isn’t like ordinary fishing in that there isn’t any kind of opportunity for catch and release. Not eating a fish you kill is cruel, wasteful, and depleting of our natural resources. If you don’t plan to cook and eat the fish you kill yourself, make sure you have someone in mind who will. 

Sustainable Spearfishing: Honor the Entire Ecosystem

Whether you’re a regular spearfisher or want to give it a try for the first time, know that it can be done in an ethical, sustainable way. Spearfishers are often targeted by conservationists who argue that they are nothing but killers – but the reality is that spearfishing can be incredibly sustainable and ethical, helping to keep populations under control and in check. As long as you are aware of and adhere to local regulations, you’ll be able to enjoy the fun and beauty of spearfishing guilt-free. Plus, you’ll be able to enjoy the hobby with your friends and future generations for many years.

Protect local wildlife and the environment as you engage in your spearfishing hobby and educate those around you on its benefits and best practices. There will be plenty of fish in the sea for everyone!

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