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.