Law says hook sticks are spear guns, gaffs maybe

Spear guns come in many forms

Recent court cases involving unlicensed spear guns prompted Chief Conservation Officer Mark Orr to agree to a demonstration of what is and is not a spear gun and what needs a licence.  

Mr. Orr usually attends court for marine offences or ensures that the officers concerned are present. 

One of the latest infractions of the Marine Conservation Law was committed by Daniel Brandon Powery, 27, who had what he thought was a gaff when he went fishing off North Side in Grand Cayman earlier this year. 

Marine officers on patrol told him it was a hook stick and charged him for possession of an unlicensed spear gun. 

In court, he initially pleaded guilty with explanation. It was his first offence. Chief Magistrate Nova Hall adjourned the matter for review. “Let’s see if we can sort this out,” she said. 

When Powery returned, he was assisted by attorney John Furniss, who explained that, although the device was “a stick with a hook”, it fit the definition of a spear gun, which includes a hook stick. 

Mr. Furniss indicated that the defendant accepted the definition, although somewhat reluctantly. “Many people have the same view,” he added. 

The magistrate imposed a fine of $200 and ordered the hook stick forfeited to the Crown.  

The term “spear gun”, as explained in the Marine Conservation Law, includes “a mechanical or pneumatic spear gun, a Hawaiian sling, a pole spear, a stick spear, harpoon, rod or any device with a pointed end which may be used to impale, stab or pierce any marine life, but does not include a striker”.  

A spear gun is legal if the person using it has a licence. 

Mr. Orr said explained that a striker is a wooden pole no less than 10 feet long with no more than two barb-less prongs at one end. Traditionally, a striker was used in combination with a “looking glass” to pick up conch from the sea bottom without leaving the boat. 

A hook stick falls under the definition of spear gun because its sharp point can pierce or impale marine life. He pointed to the barb on the hook. 

Homemade spear guns usually use heavy rubber bands or bungee cords to provide propulsion of a pointed rod – often a vehicle antenna. 

Gaffs are legal when used for landing large fish caught by line fishing, he said. Although their ends are pointed, gaffs do not have barbs, he noted, and the space between the rod and hook end is wider than with a hook stick. 

Mr. Orr said persons wishing to obtain a spear gun license for a hook stick may submit their applications to the Marine Conservation Board, through the Cayman Islands Department of Environment. 

A hook stick falls under the definition of spear gun because its sharp point can pierce or impale marine life. 

Mark Orr spearguns

Chief Conservation Officer Mark Orr holds a gaff and a 10-foot long striker. – Photo: Submitted

speargun hookstick

This close-up shows the barb on a hook stick.

speargun gaff and striker

The striker above and gaff below do not have barbs. – Photos: Carol Winker

spearguns collection

This collection of commercial and homemade spearguns includes the hook stick at bottom.


  1. You must be able to verify if the lobster, for example, being caught is legal or not (ie size requirements etc) without causing harm – breeding female lobsters should be protected at all times, even once the open season starts (late breeders).

  2. S.1 of the Constitution affirms the operation of the rule of law in the Cayman Islands. Judges are obliged to uphold the rule of law. The rule of law is founded on the notion that statues are sufficiently clear that ordinary citizens can understand them. I don’t know the people is the recent case and I don’t fish at all. I do understand and agree with the need to regulate fishing. Unfortunately the law relating to spear guns as it is currently drafted is far too vague to be consistent with the rule of law and it is unfortunate that it has not been challenged on that basis. Good law is clear enough so that an ordinary person can understand its application without any intervention by an enforcement officer or the court. The present inclusion within the language of the law of a spear gun meaning anything with a point capable of piercing any marine life means that any fishing hook and any knife or fork you have on your boat and even a sewing kit with a needle could mean that your boat is liable to be confiscated. Even if the marine officers use sensible discretion the fact remains that the current language is bad law and should be amended.

  3. In the Philippines and Vietnam, fisherman often use dynamite to catch large numbers of fish thereby eliminating all this Alice in Wonderland terminology as to what is legal and what isn’t.

  4. Next time put a string on the Hook stick. At all times. When you get caught, make sure they note the string on the hook stick.

    When asked in court why you were spear fishing. As this is considered a spear.

    Pull out a fishing hook and say that you also had this spear gun, but the marine division did not confiscate that. So what you assume is a hook stick, is what i consider just a really big fish hook for really big fish.

    Show me in the regs, that dictate the size of a fish hook.

    You walk.

  5. This is definitely an issue that needs clarifying, but why didn’t the reporter ask Orr to state why he thinks it is ok to use gaffs because they lack barbs and have a wider gap between the end and the rod? The Marine Conservation Law makes no such distinction – and if you can get a licence for a hook-stick, that surely defeats the sole purpose of outlawing them in the first place?

  6. If a striker is defined as a wooden pole not less than 10 feet that means the contraption in the picture is NOT a striker because it is made with PVC?

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