By Caitlyn Ruskell
courtesy of Divers Alert Network (DAN)
Humans have relied on fish for sustenance for thousands of years, turning the throwing of a spear into a commercial, sporting and recreational industry. A huge percentage of the world’s population still depends on fishing, and a great way to keep fish populations abundant is to fish sustainably. One of the most rewarding ways to do so is to revert to the ways of our ancestors by spearfishing or harvesting by hand.
Eliminating bycatch and unfair advantage is rarely this thrilling, but to enjoy the rush without a criminal indictment or life-altering injury, you must execute safe diving practices and play by the rules. Whether you’re a veteran spearfisher on a three-minute breath hold or blowing bubbles with your first lobster kit in hand, the following tips can help you.
Get a License.
When you get a fishing license, make sure it covers every species you plan to fish for and every method of fishing you plan to do. Licensing requirements vary by state and by country, but you can learn about most regulations online. If in doubt, contact a local official.
Learn the Rules and Play by Them.
Wherever you fish, learn the local regulations, and abide by them. Adhere precisely to season guidelines, bag limits, size limits and equipment restrictions. These regulations exist to protect species and the environments they inhabit, and the individual consequences for breaking these laws are on par with their environmental consequences. In California, for example, abalone are a delicacy for harvesters, but they play a vital role in protecting kelp forests from decimation by encroaching sea urchins. Possessing more than twice the prescribed limit for abalone can result in up to $7,000 in fines and three months in prison for the first offense, so it’s wise to be familiar with local laws before hitting the water.
Grab a Buddy and Properly Weight Yourself.
Most anglers who are harvesting by hand or spearfishing are literally holding their breath to get their perfect catch. Freediving repetitively can be exhausting and can contribute to a blackout, one of the activity’s most common risks. Overweighting and failure to maintain buddy contact are the top causes of freedivers succumbing to these blackouts and drowning, but luckily these risks are easily managed. Weight yourself to be neutrally buoyant at 30 feet (9 meters), and never dive without a vigilant buddy. If you plan to make freediving a regular activity, take a freediving course to improve your technique and become a safer diver.
Know Your Equipment and Environment.
Spearguns can be lethal weapons, so it is vital to understand how to safely use and prepare your equipment. Never point a speargun at anything you do not plan to fillet and eat. Once you are armed, ready and searching for prey, be aware of your environment. Never enter spaces with overhead environments, check your proximity to other divers, avoid touching corals or disturbing marine life, look up and around as you ascend, and be wary of other predators such as sharks or seals that want to split your catch with you.
Plan Your Dive and Dive Your Plan.
Proper planning is key any time you dive — even more so when you introduce an activity such as hunting or harvesting. Before you go dive, be sure to hydrate, eat an actual meal and get plenty of rest. Use checklists to ensure you have all the necessary equipment and personnel to safely conduct your dives. In the water, respect the limits of your training and ability. If you deviate from your plan, end your dive. Create an emergency action plan to prepare for unavoidable incidents.
Spearfishing and underwater harvesting are not only sustainable ways to fish but also activities that can test you mentally and physically while providing a thrill. With a few simple practices, you can continue diving and spearfishing without conflict or incident and help reduce the environmental impacts of commercial fishing.