Spearfishing is a form of fishing that has been popular throughout the world for centuries. Early civilizations are familiar with the custom of spearing fish out of rivers and streams using sharpened sticks as a means of catching food.
Spearfishing may be done using free-diving, snorkeling, or scuba diving techniques. However, spearfishing while using SCUBA or other artificial breathing apparatus is frowned upon in some locations and is illegal in many others. Because of the belief of lack of sport in some modern spearfishing techniques, the use of mechanically-powered spearguns is outlawed in some jurisdictions.
Spearfishing in the past has been detrimental to the environment when species unafraid or unused to divers were targeted excessively. However, it is also highly selective and has extremely low amount of by-catch; therefore with education and proper regulations spearfishing can be the most ecologically sustainable form of fishing.
The very best free-diving spearfishers can hold their breath for durations of 2-4 minutes and dive to depths of 40 or even 60 meters (about 130 to 200 feet). However, dives of approximately 1 minute and 15 or 20 meters (about 50 to 70 feet) are more common for the average experienced spearfisher.
Spearfishing with barbed poles (harpoons) was widespread in palaeolithic times. Cosquer cave in Southern France contains cave art over 16,000 years old, including drawings of seals which appear to have been harpooned.
There are references to fishing with spears in ancient literature; though, in most cases, the descriptions do not go into detail. An early example from the Bible in Job Job Chapter 41, Verse 7: Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish spears?.
Oppian of Corycus, a Greek author wrote a major treatise on sea fishing, the Halieulica or Halieutika, composed between 177 and 180. This is the earliest such work to have survived intact to the modern day. Oppian describes various means of fishing including the use of spears and tridents.
In a parody of fishing, a type of gladiator called retiarius was armed with a trident and a casting-net. He would fight against the murmillo, who carried a short sword and a helmet with the image of a fish on the front.
Copper harpoons were known to the seafaring Harappans well into antiquity. Early hunters in India include the Mincopie people, aboriginal inhabitants of India's Andaman and Nicobar islands, who have used harpoons with long cords for fishing since early times.
Spear fishing is an ancient method of fishing and may be conducted with an ordinary spear or a specialised variant such as an eel spear or the trident. A small trident type spear with a long handle is used in the American South and Midwest for gigging bullfrogs with a bright light at night, or for gigging carp and other fish in the shallows.
Traditional spear fishing is restricted to shallow waters, but the development of the speargun has made the method much more efficient. With practice, divers are able to hold their breath for up to four minutes and sometimes longer; of course, a diver with underwater breathing equipment can dive for much longer periods.
During the 1960s, attempts were made to have spearfishing recognized as an Olympic sport. This didn't happen. Instead, two organisations, the International Underwater Spearfishing Association (IUSA) and the International Bluewater Spearfishing Records Committee (IBSRC), maintain lists of world records by species and offer rules to insure that any world record setting fish is caught under fair conditions. Spearfishing is illegal in many bodies of water, and some locations only allow spearfishing during certain seasons.
In 2007, the Australian Bluewater Freediving Classic became the first spearfishing tournament in the world to be accredited and was awarded 4 out of 5 stars based on environmental, social, safety and ecomomic indicators.
The methods and locations freedive spearfishers use vary greatly around the world. This variation extends to the species of fish sought and the gear used.
Shore dives can produce a mixed bag of fish, mainly reef fish, but ocean going pelagic fish are caught from shore dives too, and can be specifically targeted.
Shore diving can be done with trigger-less spears such as pole spears or Hawaiian slings, but more commonly triggered devices such as spearguns. Speargun setups to catch and store fish include speed rigs, fish stringers.
The use of catch bags worn close to the body is discouraged because the bag can inhibit movement, especially descent or ascent on deeper freedives. Moreover, in waters known to contain sharks, it is positively dangerous and can greatly increase the risk of attack. The better option is to tow a float behind, to which is attached a line onto which a catch can be threaded. Tying the float line to the speargun can be of great assistance in the event of a large catch, or if the speargun should be dropped or knocked out of reach.
Methods and gear used for diving from a boat diving are similar to shore diving or blue water hunting depending on the prey sought. Care must be taken with spearguns in the cramped confines of a small boat, and it is recommended that spear guns are never loaded on the boat.
Boat diving is practiced worldwide. Hot spots include the northern islands of New Zealand (yellow tail kingfish), Gulf of Florida oil rigs (cobia, grouper) and the Great Barrier Reef (wahoo, dog-tooth tuna). FADS are targeted worldwide, often specifically for mahi-mahi (dolphin fish). The deepwater fishing grounds off Cape Point, (Cape Town, South Africa) have become popular with trophy hunting, freediving spearfishers in search of Yellowfin Tuna.
Notably, blue water hunters make use of breakaway rigs and large multi band wooden guns to catch and subdue their prey. If the prey is large and still has fight left after being subdued, a second gun can be used to provide a kill shot at a safe distance from the fish. This is acceptable to IBSRC and IUSA regulations as long as the spearfisher loads it himself in the water.
Blue water hunting is conducted world wide, but notable hot spots include South Africa (yellow fin tuna) and the South Pacific (dog-tooth snapper). Blue water pioneers like Jack Prodanavich and Hal Lewis of San Diego were some of the first to go after large species of fast moving fish like Tuna.
These methods have been used for thousands of years. A fisher wades in shallow salt or fresh water with a hand spear. The fisher must account for optical refraction at the water's surface, which makes the fish appear to be further away. By experience, the fisher learns to aim lower to hit the target. Calm and shallow waters are favored for spearing fish from above the surface.
In Australia it is a recreational-only activity and generally only breath-hold free diving. There are numerous restriction placed by the Government such as Marine Protected Areas, Closed Areas, Protected Species, size/bag limits and equipment.
The peak recreational body is the Australian Underwater Federation. The vision of this group is "Safe, Sustainable, Selective, Spearfishng" and the AUF provides membership, advocacy and organises competitions.
Because of its relatively long coastline compared to its population, Norway has one of the most liberal spearfising rules in the northern hemisphere, and spearfishing with scuba gear is a widespread activity among recreational divers. Restrictions in Norway are limited to anadrome species, like atlantic salmon, sea trout, and lobster.
In Mexico a regular fishing permit allows for Spearfishing, but not for electro-mechanical types of spearguns.
Once on the bottom or in sight of a fish a spearfisherman will remain perfectly still, and lack of vibration in the water will usually cause the fish to come within spear range to investigate. Experienced shore spearfishermen will travel along the shoreline and prepare for an entrance to the water and enter and go straight to the bottom for as long as they can hold their breath.
Any large fish in the area will usually come to investigate the appearance and then disappearance of something, as no picture is available to their lateral line of a non moving object. Any rocks or other objects on the bottom that the spearfisherman can get close to will further disguise his appearance and warrant closer investigation by fish within 40 yards. Exiting the water and moving 40 yards down the shore usually produces another shot at a big one.
Experienced divers will carry several small pieces of coral or shells and when a fish is reluctant to come into spear range, rubbing or clicking of these usually draws them closer. Throwing up sand also will bring a fish closer and helps to camouflage the diver. Contact with coral should be avoided as this may damage the reef. Blue water divers will float on the surface 100 yards from their boat and continue to rap a dive knife or a softer object against their spear gun until a big one comes to investigate.
In areas where many holes are available for a fish to hide in, a strong swimmer can clip his gun to his belt, and force a fish into a hole by swimming full speed and slapping his cupped hands on the surface with each stroke. Another shoreline technique for the big ones is to spear fish that are favorite prey of the desired species or collect the seaweed, mussels, etc. that they eat and chum them into the area.
Some think chumming the water is dangerous as it will draw sharks, but many big predator fish travel with reef sharks, and the instances of spearfisherman being attacked is a very low percentage of the total number of shark attacks. Sharks are like dogs,: if you cower from a bad dog, it will bite you, but if you stand your ground with a big stick, you can usually back it down.
Spearfishing in areas with many sharks larger than 8 feet and of aggressive species does not require chumming as these areas are plentiful in big fish that are not used to seeing spear fisherman. Care needs to be taken in these areas to stay out of areas where blood from a kill is in the water.
SPEARFISHING ANNIVERSARY A FEDERAL COURT RULING 25 YEARS AGO LED TO THE RESUMPTION OF OFF-RESERVATION SPEARFISHING BY CHIPPEWA INDIANS IN NORTHERN WISCONSIN.(FRONT)
Apr 26, 2008; Byline: ROBERT IMRIE Associated Press Northern Wisconsin marks an anniversary this year, but not everyone is celebrating. It...