Spearfishers fear extinction

A law passed decades ago to preserve the Cayman Islands diverse species of marine wildlife may lead to the extinction of another local population: the spearfishers.

Under current marine conservation regulations, spear guns and spear gun parts may not be imported here. However, any Caymanians with a clean police record who had spear guns in their possession on or before 1986 may apply for a licence to keep using them.

A newly-formed group called the Cayman Islands Spearfishers Association is lobbying government to relax the restriction on importing spear guns.

‘We’re just trying to protect our heritage,’ said Spearfishers Association President Gerald Dilbert.

The group is also concerned about the safety of continuing to use ancient spear gun models.

‘A 1986 gun isn’t going to be the safest piece of equipment to draw back a rubber on and shoot with, simply because it’s 20 years old and it has been in the salt water umpteen times,’ association member Wayne Kirkconnell said.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said last week at a press briefing that the government has never considered relaxing any of the current regulations on spearfishing.

He wouldn’t speculate as to whether lawmakers might revisit the issue in the future.

The spearfishers group has written a letter to the Marine Conservation Board noting some of its concerns. It did not release that letter to the Caymanian Compass because association members said they didn’t want to stir up trouble.

‘Our goal is to get the (board) to recognise us as the governing body of spear fishing,’ Mr. Kirkconnell said.

On Friday, board Secretary Phillippe Bush acknowledged receiving the letter, but said he did not wish to respond to the group’s requests immediately.

‘We are drafting a reply to the letter,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘Our whole concept will be outlined in our response which will hopefully be out by the end of the month.’

The Marine Conservation Board issued a brief statement last month which reiterated the ban on importing spear guns and gun parts.

In response to e-mailed questions from the Compass, Mr. Bush said that the prohibition on importing those items was being enforced. Mr. Bush wrote that he knew of no ‘grandfathering’ clause with regard to the importation of spear guns or spear gun parts.

Mr. Kirkconnell estimated 190 people had signed up to be listed as members of the spearfisher’s organisation. He said there are approximately 500 licensed spearfishers in the Cayman Islands, and that the new group wants all of them to belong.

Mr. Dilbert envisions the association as a type of self-policing organisation for spearfishing in the Cayman Islands. He said they have no problem with any of the other regulations required of spear gun owners, apart from the prohibition on importing new spear guns and replacement parts.

Additional regulations include limits on how many fish can be caught by spearfishers, where spear guns can be used, and how many guns can be owned.

‘Right now, we’re happy with what’s there,’ Mr. Dilbert said. ‘In the near future, we’re going to be making recommendations…pass along information, be the eyes and ears of the whole islands…work alongside with them (the marine board).’

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A newly-formed group called the Cayman Islands Spearfishers Association is lobbying government to relax the restriction on importing spear guns.

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