Panton: Spearfishing rules may be changed

Spearfishing rules may be changed

Environment Minister Wayne Panton indicated Wednesday that long-standing rules banning the importation of spear gun parts and the granting of new spearfishing licenses could be changed, depending on recommendations from the National Conservation Council. 

The issue was raised Wednesday in Legislative Assembly amid questions from North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, who asked Minister Panton whether Caymanians would be able to eventually purchase new spear guns, import existing spear gun parts or obtain licenses for new spear guns. 

“I would anticipate that [changes to the law or regulations] would include all of those,” Mr. Panton said in response. 

For a number of years, Cayman has allowed only current spearfishing license holders to renew their permits and has not allowed replacement parts to be imported or for new licenses to be obtained. The ban on spear gun importation does not apply to non-mechanical spears used for lionfish culls. Separate, specific-purpose licenses are required for the use of those during underwater dives. The new National Conservation Law does not specifically prohibit the importation of spear guns. 

An estimated 400 to 500 people in the Cayman Islands 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 in a private members’ motion filed in the assembly last year that 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 them for a Caymanian to pursue “sporting activities” or activities related to “national heritage.” 

Mr. Panton said because of the tradition of spearfishing in the Cayman Islands, he is willing to let the National Conservation Council 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 said. 

Mr. Panton

Mr. Panton

Spear guns like the one pictured, which was seized in North Side, are not allowed to be imported into the Cayman Islands and can only be used under the terms of a ‘grandfathered’ spear gun license.

Spear guns like the one pictured, which was seized in North Side, are not allowed to be imported into the Cayman Islands and can only be used under the terms of a ‘grandfathered’ spear gun license. – Photo: Department of Environment
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  1. The few little hand-me-down spear guns being used by locals to catch a few fish can in no way be compared to the high-powered license guns imported and used; which not only hunt Lion Fish but Lobsters at night when we are asleep. So little that we know.

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  2. Illegal fishing, both out of season, and in restricted areas, has always been rampant here in defiance of the law. Allowing spearguns will only encourage this behaviour, and lead to further depletion of our fishing stocks.

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  3. I agree with Mr Panton 110% on the changes that he is proposing. I have seen and tried for the same rules. I have seen when there was abundance of fish and lobsters in Cayman waters, I have seen the depletion start about 40 years ago , and I think that if we all don’t realize and see that these changes are necessary now, there wouldn’t be any fish and lobsters in the water for us to see, or eat,or have for future generations. I am very happy to see that we have a politician with a conservation mind and looking at the future.

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  4. It is disturbing that while Mr. Panton admits to a decline of important fish species over the last four decades and how essential they are to the healthy balance of our reefs, and yet suggests that laws may change that will further that damage. Cayman’s reef and marine environment are our single most important natural asset and tourism draw which demand strong and responsible protection. Traditional practices do not justify further destruction and abuse. I hope the Conservation Board and our leading politicians have the strength of commitment to do the right thing and not reverse or relax existing restrictions, but in fact show some foresight and tighten them for the sustainability of our tourism product and consequent economy that we all benefit from.

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  5. Twyla
    I”m not sure what legal high powered spear guns you are talking about.
    As a licensed lion fish hunter I have one of the only type of spear guns permitted in these Islands and it is far from high powered.
    Range of about 2 feet if you’re lucky.

    I understand that spear fishing is a local tradition and don’t wish to tread on anyone’s toes.

    But let me say that a large grouper when dead provides a couple of good meals for a family.

    Left alive it provides pleasure to hundreds of divers who COME HERE TO SPEND MONEY.
    And in so doing provide jobs not only in the dive industry but hotel and restaurant industries too. Evan income for taxi drivers and car rental agencies.

    The reefs have already been almost denuded of fish by the predations of the voracious lion fish. let do our best to keep alive what is left.

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  6. Norman you live on one of the Island and unless you get around day and night, and hangout with the good bad and ugly you will not know who has what.
    Don’t know anything about your spear gun but those I mentioned are here, you can believe that, and Caymanians are not in possession of them.

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  7. Twyla
    I really don’t want to argue but even if "high powered" spear guns are on Grand Cayman they aren’t here legally.

    Do you have any proof that these spear guns have been used illegally, especially to take lobster out of season?
    Did you report the wrong doers to DOE?

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  8. I see nothing wrong in spearfishing. I see it as the same as a gun license. The people who use the speargun should be law abiding citizens. Twyla is right , you all don’t know people go hunting in the night while scuba diving for lobster. They come out more in the banana moons ( waxing or waning crescent) around 4:30- .They are walking on the bottom shine your light on them draw light slow and closer and closer, voila lobster dinner no speargun needed. You can catch fish the same way. Don’t forget to wear gloves spines are sharp.

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  9. Mr Miller, I have to disagree with you. I know that spear guns have and are still causing the depletion. I have to tell you that the NORTH sound lunch trip was one of the biggest problem with the depletion of the fish and lobsters, conch. The north sound lunch trip had about 10 to 12 boats doing the trip, catching fresh fish and lobsters and conch to feed 10 to 20 people daily . About 40 years ago when I seen the depletion start, I tryed to get legislation through the marine conservation board, but the politicians were too much like everyone else that couldn’t see this issue coming some day . I think that if we supported Mr Panton and tryed to educate the public on the issue of depletion, we would be doing the Islands and future generations a real big favor.

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