Spearos Aren’t That Bad


Jackson Shields with the only fish taken for the day on a dive in the Whitianga area (New Zealand).


Sam Power with a 29 kg kingfish taken at the Barrier, New Zealand.


Sam Power on a day at the Barrier with 8.5 kg snapper. He took two quality fish for the day, no others.

By Darren Shields

As the sport of spearfishing grows so does the criticism. A large proportion of this criticism comes from some line fishermen.

One thing that many do not understand is the lack of by-catch from our form of fishing. No other way of taking fish is as environmentally friendly as spearing a fish is. I have, for the last few years, spent a lot of time filming line fishermen doing their thing and while a big deal is always made of how many fish are returned to the water I am still staggered by the amount of by-catch, how they are handled by some and by the need to continue catching fish for fun then releasing them sometimes with damage from which they will not survive.

Now I know this will raise some hackles in the line fishing fraternity but I am privy to seeing very sick fish swimming around with broken jaws, hook holes in their faces and burnt hand marks on their bodies from being mis-handled.

Another scenario I am now seeing and hearing from fellow spearos is snapper especially, being found tethered to the bottom by the line they have pulled into the reef then broken off only to be stuck there until they die or another predator nails them. Recently a friend told me of a nine kilogram snapper he found in this predicament. Not long ago I speared a five kilogram snapper that was tethered to weed by monofilament line (mono) from when it had been caught then broken off. This brings me to another point, some of my favourite dive spots are now starting to look as though they’ve had parts of gill nets attached to them. I derive this from the amount of mono/braid criss-crossed on the bottom and which creates a hazard for us; especially when in dirty water as we can be snagged in it.

Now I am not saying we are holier-than-thou as we too wound our fair share of fish that do not survive. As in every group we have some who break the rules – we are no different and the top end of the spearfishing fraternity are very good at targeting quality fish. This means we have an impact on the bigger and better breeding stock, something which is debated on a regular basis. Yes we shoot marlin but in very small quantities each year with maybe 10 marlin ever speared in New Zealand. Yes it is not very nice to see a marlin with a few spears sticking out of it but we do tend to end the fight quicker than other ways and the fish always get eaten.

I do not want to appear against line fishing but just ask for a better understanding of us as spearos and our desire to do what we do in harmony alongside what line fisherman like to do. Some of the scenarios I have written about need to be addressed, like encouraging manufacturers to come up with biodegradable mono/braid and once a feed is caught, to stop fishing. Do not continue to damage fish that may not survive. Grab a mask, snorkel and camera and jump in and see what we experience.

We as a group certainly push for better understanding of the species we target and the impact we have. There are many areas of our sport that still need attending too but at the end of the day we are both after the same thing and that is for a feed of seafood from the same cupboard. We should look at pooling our resources at times and work together to ensure the environment is always at the top of our agendas.

Recommended reading – available through the shop:

Len Jones Guide to Spearfishing, New Zealand (2nd edition)

New Zealand Spearfishing Adventures DVD

Blue Water Hunters by Terry Maas

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