Guide to responsible spearfishing #1

Spearfishing is a great way to connect with the ocean and to get some omega 3 into your diet. It is a sustainable method of fishing when done responsibly as you only take what you need and you can target the more sustainable species and sizes. Contrary to popular opinion, the average spearo doesn’t go out indiscriminately killing everything that moves. In fact I often come home with nothing. For me the pleasure comes from being in the ocean and learning about fishy behaviour. If I happen to catch a feed that’s great! but I’m just as happy to have been underwater, watching the aquatic world pass by. Last weekend I was lucky enough to swim with a pod of dolphins for a few minutes. The video below is worth a look and talks a bit about these motivations.

My impetus for writing this article comes from discussions I’ve been involved in recently regarding how difficult it is to find information on spearfishing rules and regulations. Additionally, the Christmas period is fast approaching which often brings on a spate of green spearo’s who’ve been given some brand new gear as a gift and are perhaps a little over-excited to go and catch a feed. While this excitement is understandable, I would like to see everyone enjoying this activity responsibly for many years to come.

I’ve been involved in spearfishing for many years now and I still find it difficult to find good information so I hope that this series of articles will help to bring the information together that you’ll need to get into this sport safely and responsibly. At the very least it should give you an idea of the authorities involved in regulating spearfishing activity. A lot of this will be aimed at people just starting out in spearfishing, but I hope that some of the resources will help experienced spearo’s to figure out where they can fish as well.

Before I get into it, I want to apologise for the bias toward NSW regulation in this article, but that is where I fish so it’s what I’m familiar with. Similar resources should be available from the equivalent Fisheries/land management authorities in your region.

Starting out

Spearfishing in Tonga. I’m using a homemade slingshot and the spear is the shaft from the hinge on an old chest freezer. The Tongans are a resourceful bunch!

There really is no substitute for tagging along with an experienced person. Someone who can guide you in safety and in what you can/can’t shoot. However, I realise that it’s not always possible to find someone willing to take you along. I suggest checking out some spearfishing forums and asking if anyone in your local area is happy for you to go along with them. My experience with these forums is that most people are supportive of helping out a newbie and are pretty happy to show you the ropes. But before you even get to this stage, you should do some reading – I hope the following article will provide a lot of necessary information for you. A little bit of prior knowledge will go along way toward showing an experienced buddy that you are serious about getting into this activity and that you care about the reputation of your fellow spearo’s.

Forums:
Adreno
Extreme spearfishing – Currently unavailable, but check out their facebook page

Before you get in the water

Get to know the rules for your local area. 10 minutes on google could save you a massive fine for being an idiot and spearing a protected species in a no-fishing zone. In NSW you must obtain a fishing licence. These are very easy to acquire, available at most fishing tackle shops or online here. Spearfishing is NOT allowed on scuba in NSW.

Where can I spearfish?

You’ll want to start out somewhere nice and protected. Have a look on google earth for places close to you. Identify somewhere that looks like it has good access for the time being. You’ll learn to identify good fishing areas as you progress, but for now, just find somewhere you can get in and out without too much difficulty. Headlands may offer some protection from wind and wave action depending on the direction of the wind and swell. Beaches are easy to enter and exit from, but you are only permitted to carry a spear within 20 m of the end of the beach.

An example of an easy site. Close to parking, beach entry/exit and plenty of rocky reef close by. Assuming north is toward the top of the pic, this site would get good protection from westerly winds.

In NSW, spearfishing is subject to all of the rules applying to saltwater fishers. The fisheries rules are in place in order to sustainably manage this shared resource. They may not be perfect, but take it from me, our fisheries in Australia are much healthier than regions where fisheries are unregulated. Visit the NSW DPI recreational fishing page for these rules and closures. There is NO spearfishing in freshwater in NSW. Ocean beaches (except 20 m from either end) are also off limits. A great resource for checking whether an area is closed to spearfishing is the NSW DPI Primefact available here. In addition to these closures there is a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) along the coast of NSW. MPAs consist of marine parks, aquatic reserves and special aggregation areas.

Marine parks

There are six marine parks in NSW. They have several types of zone. Usually you can fish in a general purpose (yellow) zone, but check the zoning map to make sure. There is NO fishing in red zones. Information and zoning maps are available here. There is signage at most access points to beaches within marine parks showing the zoning of the area.

Aquatic reserves

Aquatic reserves are a tricky bunch as each one differs in what you can/can’t do. Thankfully, the NSW DPI has consolidated all of this info for you and you can find out whether speafishing is allowed or not on this website.

Grey nurse shark aggregation sites

Photo Credit: Kylie Brown

Grey nurse sharks were hunted to near extinction in the 1960’s. It’s a black mark in spearfishing history, but thankfully the species is showing signs of recovery. There are several recognised grey nurse shark aggregation sites and like aquatic reserves, they vary in what you can and can’t do so make sure you check whether you can spearfish or not on this website.

A lot of scuba divers will talk about how harmless these sharks are and that’s pretty true. However be aware that these are large wild animals and you should treat them with respect. I know of at least one case of a spearo being bitten by a grey nurse shark, so just be aware. By all means, take a look if you see one – they are majestic animals, but be aware of their behaviour and take into consideration whether you are trailing dead fish on your float. Learn to recognise a pissed off shark (fast, erratic movements; pectoral fins pointed down; head arched back). They will let you know if they don’t want you around. Always give them an exit.

National parks

NSW national parks generally only manage activities on the land but there are some rules that may apply to you as a spearo accessing the water through a national park. National parks are tricky to find info about spearfishing. From what I can gather each park has its own plan of management and if that plan makes reference to spearfishing or spearguns you must comply with that. If the plan of management makes no reference to spearfishing or spearguns, then I think the regulation below applies. Plans of management are available here. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009 contains the following:

National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009
Part 2 Division 3 Clause 20
20   Weapons
(1)  A person must not in a park:
(b)  carry or discharge or have in the person’s possession any airgun, speargun or other lethal weapon
(6)  A person does not commit an offence under subclause (1) (b) if the person carries or possesses an unloaded speargun in a park, unless a plan of management for a park or a notice erected in the park or given to the person prohibits the carrying or possession of a speargun (whether loaded or unloaded) in a park or any part of the park.
(8)  In this clause, unloaded speargun means:
(a)  an assembled rubber powered speargun that does not have the shaft engaged in the trigger mechanism and the rubbers stretched and engaged in the shaft, or
(b)  in the case of a pneumatic, spring or gas powered speargun—one that does not have the spear shaft located within the barrel of the speargun, or
   (c)  a disassembled speargun.

If you are going to be carrying your speargun through a national park, I would recommend calling the appropriate office and talking to the park manager. You shouldn’t have your gun loaded on land anyway, but ensure that it is unloaded at all times in the national park and disengage the spear shaft from the trigger mechanism. i.e. carry the spear shaft separately from the gun body.

Commonwealth National Parks

There are six Commonwealth National Parks in Australia. Kakadu NP is bordered by the sea to the north, though admittedly, I know absolutely nothing about spearfishing in the Northern Territory and I couldn’t find any reference to spearfishing on the Kakadu NP website. My advice would be to call the ranger station and ask about it if you plan on braving the crocs up there! Booderee National Park encompasses waters of Jervis Bay. Spearfishing is prohibited and spears or spear guns are not allowed in this parkNorfolk Island and Christmas Island National Parks also have oceanic boundaries and again, I could not find any reference to spearfishing on their respective websites. If you are lucky enough to be on one of these islands, then talk to the rangers to find out if you can spear there. The take home message here is that if you can’t find the information, talk to someone. Don’t just assume the it’s ok to go spearfishing. You could end up with a nasty fine or with your gear impounded.

Next Issue

So that pretty well sums up the rules and regulations around where your can spearfish or at least should give you some idea of where to find the information. I know it’s a lot, but you only have to check out your sites once and you will get to know your local area. In the next part of this guide I will cover what you can/can’t fish for. Remember, there is no catch and release in spearfishing. If you don’t know what it is, DON’T shoot it. I’ll cover where to find information on protected species and suggest some easy species to get started on and move on to some good sustainable fish species.

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