New spearfishing licenses may be approved

The Department of Environment has seized many homemade speargun parts over the years, including these. Licensed speargun owners will now be able to import spear parts.

Seeking to preserve a Caymanian tradition without destroying the islands’ marine environment, the National Conservation Council has proposed a compromise over spearfishing.

The number of people licensed to hunt with spearguns on Cayman’s reefs could be increased if a new system of marine parks is put in place, the council recommends in a new policy proposal sent to Cabinet for approval.

The council has been tasked with implementing legislation, introduced through an amendment to the National Conservation Law, to allow spearfishing for “traditional or cultural needs.” The amendment reversed a previous policy of phasing out the activity in Cayman.

Under the new system, the 170 fishermen currently licensed to use spearguns will be allowed to import new parts and replace their equipment.

The council’s initial recommendation is that spearfishing remain limited to those 170 people.

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But it has indicated this number could be increased to 300, if expanded marine parks, dramatically increasing the size of no-fishing zones in Cayman, are introduced, to offset some of the negative impact this increase would have on marine life.

The document also recommends changes to customs and enforcement policy to reflect the fact that it is now legal to import spearguns under certain conditions.

In its document, the council expresses some reservations about the move.

“This new provision which was proposed at the committee stage of the National Conservation Bill, once enacted by the Legislature, reflected a change in Government policy towards spearguns,” it notes.

“Previous Government policy was to phase out spearfishing through natural attrition, in order to promote other forms of marine resource use. Spearfishing, because of its ability to target large, reproductively important individuals, is far more detrimental than other forms of recreational fishing.”

With Cayman’s reefs already facing varied threats from overfishing and invasive species to coral disease and climate change, the council indicates it cannot recommend any additional spearfishing licenses until new marine parks legislation is implemented.

It suggests expanded marine parks, increasing no-take zones from 14 to 40 percent of Cayman’s marine shelf, as it has recommended, would help increase fish stocks and the health of reef populations.

“An enhanced system of marine protected areas may be able to support a proportional increase in the number of spearfishers,” it suggests, recommending a steady annual increase of licenses to a maximum of 300.

It notes that this will not be possible, however, without expanded marine parks.

“Until the proposals for the enhanced marine parks have been enacted, any enlargement of the pool of potential speargun licensees within the Cayman Islands will only increase the need for other more restrictive management in the immediate future.”

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  1. I just think that it is stupid for DoE to be issuing spear gun license today in the name of traditional. I am not asking no one what spear fishing has contributed to the depletion of fish and lobsters in Cayman Island waters .
    I have seen the depletion of marine life start from back in the 80’s and can only imagine it being worse today .
    What are we going to do when the waters becomes completely depleted of fish and lobsters ? Should we also be thinking about one more thing to enforce ? We all knows how well everything else is enforced on the Island .
    By the way are DoE having trouble getting funding for the Department today ?

    I have seen the fish so plentiful that you could pick chose which you wanted to shoot, the conch so plentiful that you could dive down without a mask an come up with 5 , lobsters so plentiful you could get 20 from under one rock ledge 20ft from shore . Can we do that today ? NO . What are we going to tell our grand Children when they can’t get any seafood from the waters ? Sorry we ate it all in our generation.

  2. As much as I appreciate and support the Conservation Council’s dedication to and faithful efforts toward preserving our environment I fervently disagree with this proposed change in plans to phase out spearfishing (aside from licensed lionfish spears). I grew up fishing and spearfishing in California, but gave up both after witnessing how devastating my own spearfishing was on reef fish, which are territorial and much longer lived than I had thought in my youthful ignorance. I witnessed my own destructiveness in a private cove in which I was the only spearfisherman over a three year period in the 1970’s. After three summers I had cleaned out all of the nooks and crannies in that cove and they were not replenished. Most of the large reef species live in excess of 25 years, so as I removed them from their lairs, those niches in the reef remained empty for years afterward. Mature fish do not cross pelagic waters, so there is no new stream of them coming in from the deep sea. The edge of our shelf acts like an aquarium wall to them. Studying marine biology in college I learned that egg production increases exponentially with age and size. Unlike us, they never stop growing as they age. The older and bigger, the more valuable they are to any restoration effort. It is human nature to go for the largest fish you can find, so spearfishing, which affords selectivity can be a very effective means of depopulating an already depressed population. This is especially problematic on our reefs, which are severely over-fished from about 40 years of unsustainable take by a wide variety of methods… not just spearfishing! My argument is not about how we got into this dilemma, but what we must now do to resolve it. Having moved to Cayman in 1983 as a scuba instructor/underwater photographer, I heard the more experienced divemasters grumbling and moaning about how quickly all of the big fish and big schools of fish were disappearing and soon saw it for myself. So I have never taken, nor eaten one fish from our reef in my 34 years here. During this time however, I have seen our most valuable tourism attraction vanishing before my eyes. The decrease in reef fish population has been at least as dramatic and obvious as the increase in human population has been during this same period. Imagine paying to visit Seaworld in Florida and discovering that nearly all of the big fish and well more than half of the rest were missing. Would you go back? Would you recommend it? Certainly, taking fish (of any species) while spawning has been the singularly most devastating of all, but at this point in time our reef fish populations are so depressed that every individual of our rarest species removed today is a significant loss to restoration. Spearfishing is only one relatively small (yet still significant) part of a large variety of ways that I believe we must change our take from the reefs if we are to truly solve this problem. Enhancing enforcement of all marine resource laws, expanding the marine parks and seeking even more ways to reduce our take is rapidly becoming more necessary and dire the longer we continue what cumulatively continues to be unsustainable consumption. Effectively stopping poaching is recognized by all as a big part of restoration. Eliminating spearguns would make stopping poaching with illegal guns much easier than it is today. There is more at stake than merely what is currently tens of millions of dollars per year in diving tourism income if we fail. This is a significant, perpetually sustainable food stock for all future generations of Caymanians that we are losing. When your herd of 10,000 cattle has been reduced to less than 500, you’d better reconsider how you’re managing your stocks. If you want to know more about my observations and thoughts about what must soon be done to reverse this loss, please watch my brief, 18 minute TedX talk.

  3. I find it hard to believe that this government or any Cayman government would allow more killing of fish. Scuba diving is one of the biggest draws if not the biggest. Why would you do anything that would destroy marine life