A ban on the importation of spear guns and their replacement parts will be reviewed in the coming months, Environment Minister Wayne Panton said Thursday.
Any change to current policy on spear gun importation would have to be considered by the National Conservation Council, once it is formed under the auspices of the National Conservation Law, Mr. Panton said.
His comments came in response to a private members motion filed in the Legislative Assembly by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller seeking to amend two sections of the Customs Law that appear to allow officials to ban the importation of spear guns and replacement parts.
An estimated 400 to 500 people on island currently have permits to own spear guns, but due to the ban on importation of new weapons and replacement parts, many of the spear guns here no longer work and cannot be repaired.
Mr. Miller noted that the National Conservation Law, which is not yet in effect, does not prohibit importation of spear guns. He said a “very generous interpretation” of the Customs Law lists prohibited goods including crossbows, catapults or any other manually operated weapons. Those items cannot be imported unless the commissioner of police agrees to allow it for a Caymanian to pursue “sporting activities” or activities related to “national heritage.”
Mr. Panton said because of the tradition of spear fishing in the Cayman Islands, he is willing for the National Conservation Council to reconsider the issue, possibly allowing the use of properly licensed spear guns in certain non-restricted areas.
However, that would have to be balanced against a decline in large fish populations around Cayman’s reefs over the past four decades, he said.
“Spearfishing itself is a form of fishing which has specially high impact on the largest breeding fish and has been demonstrated through many studies to reduce the population of the large predatory species of fish,” Mr. Panton said.
“Snapper, grouper and other large species of fish are essential to maintain the balance of the ecosystem on the reefs.
“The government is not unsympathetic to the perspective that we can consider [amending the rules banning importation of spear guns], but it has to be done in an appropriate way,” he added.
Mr. Panton said government would not seek to change any “omnibus” provisions currently contained in the Customs Law.
East End MLA Arden McLean, who seconded Mr. Miller’s motion on the Customs Law amendments, said the government’s position on the matter is the political equivalent of sticking one’s head in the sand.
He said people who are now licensed to carry spear guns are all “people who we consider good Caymanians, good citizens.”
“People are still going to spear with makeshift spear guns,” Mr. McLean said. “They will never get a license, but they are depleting our reefs.”