Spear fishers can now choose whether to kill the fish they shoot for food, or release them with a research tag.
While hook and line fishers have been tagging and releasing fish for decades with millions of fish around the world released with tags, the same option for spear fishers been absent, til now.
Tagging fish allows scientists to understand their growth and migration to apply for conservation measures and set fishery limits.
Tagging free-swimming fish has a greater value to research because the fish has not been hooked and fought. Video footage showing Watson testing the tagger by swimming amongst dozens of marlin and firing tags into them has been viewed by several hundreds of thousands of viewers already.
It works just as well on inshore fish like snapper and kingfish, and this is where Watson sees a more immediate conservation benefit.
“The research value of this is obvious, but more immediately what it means is spear fishers can spend a day in the water hunting and shoot multiple fish, yet only the ones they need for a meal are killed,” he says.
The key to the spear tagger being widely adopted is that it fits all spear guns, uses all tags used around the world, and is inexpensive and easy to use.
“Spearfishing is already a very selective form of harvesting fish, every fish is picked out and then shot. With the tagger, spear fishers can shoot to their hearts content and every fish tagged is another opportunity for science to learn more about that species.”
This is not the first bit of innovative marine conservation project Watson has developed. In 2008 he devised a new format for fishing competitions where instead of bringing all fish in to be weighed, a photo of a fish on a measuring mat was all that was needed, allowing the angler the freedom to choose to keep or release the fish. Many tournaments have adopted this system resulting in many more fish being released.
Watson says, “It’s also about the story capturing people’s hearts and minds, and this will help the attitude shift, from being entitled to take whatever we want, to being grateful to take what we need”.
Matt is currently in discussion with a large international spearfishing company about the manufacture and distribution of the spear tagger, where he wants to see proceeds go towards marine conservation.
“I’m not in the business of selling spear fishing products, I just want to get it out to the world as quickly as possible. I got the patent only so I could stop it getting ripped off and commercialised. If I can’t get the tagger made and distributed cheaply, I’ll make all the information and design open source online”.