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Ethics of spearfishing competitions

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Ben Gowland

Aplysia gowlandicus
Apr 4, 2002
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I don't know if this has been discussed before, but probably will have been.

As a happy spearfisherman who has no problem with the concept of shooting fish to eat, I have long been irritated by certain scuba diving groups who denounce spearfishing as 'ecologically wrong' etc. However, I know that in the UK this attitude is fuelled by what spearfishermen used to do back in the 1960s and 1970s rather than what they do now. I know that spearfishermen would shoot huge amounts of fish and sometimes discard their catch.

Now that there are less fish around than there used to be, a new generation of eco-spearfishermen has arisen, that shoots only what will be eaten and thus with near zero by catch and selectivity, we could sensibly be considered the most responsible of fish-killing folk.

However, I don't think the continuation of spearfishing competitions does us and good in the public eye. Having events where divers swarm into an area to take as many over-the-threshold-limit fish they can, does not suggest sustainability (although it may be sustainable). I know that the fish get used and not discarded, so there is not an issue with wastage.

I'm not saying here that I think spearfishing competitions are completely out of order. My opinion is that:

Competitive spearfishing is at odds with the modern ethos of what spearfishing is about, and hence I do not participate in such events.

[I also don't get the chance as I live a long way from any competition sites, but I maintain that I wouldn't enter one if I got the chance]

So, what do others think about this, in the UK and abroad? Am I in the minority?

Ben
 

Murat

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Jun 21, 2002
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In my opinion spearfishing is not a SPORT. Its hunting, life style, passion or whatever you can call it... But not a sport. Freediving is a sport, people shows how deep she/he can dive. Target shooting (trap and skeet) is a sport but shooting birds on the field is not sport. So we have to first distinguish the difference between hunting and sporting.

Actually spearfishing competitions are not much fair because of many variables effects the performance of the spero. Like local area knowledge, different kinds of gear used by every individual spero... I mean there are lots of factors other than the spero himself. For example in F1 racing every car almost identical with others. I mean there are rules for even every piece for the car design...and you can not get out of those rules. But putting that much rules for spearfishing competitions is not possible since its too much related with nature. Of course the luck plays very important role here too.

Other issue is killing too much fish by the competitiors. Actually is depend the format of the competition but most of the european competitions based on the quantity not quality. This because of the competitions generally held in shore areas, which you don't need boat, so its obvious that you will not find a much big fish on reefs. I recently heard that one italian (may be spanish too) spero shoot 300kg sargo (bream) in one cometition. This makes more or less 600 fish. Does he need to shoot that much fish to win the competition? Obviously not, he just wanted to impress people and do some show. Unfortunatelly this is the weak point of the humankind, every time seek for power and fame...

On the other hand we can think if commercial fishermans can take tons of fish from sea why i should not have that luxury? Well, no matters how much fish you can shoot in competitions or daily life, speros are still small "consumers" in the whole frame.
So asking spero why you shoot that much fish is not fair nor logical. Its just the conscience of the spero to shoot how much fish.

It seems we can not say this is the true this is the false about this topic. Like there is not only black or white. This topic is bit grey:D

Anyway, if we put scale the negative parts and positive parts of the spearfishing competitions we can find our own answer to compete or not to compete. But its certain we can not say others to compete or not to compete.

If i have a chance to compete (i think i will have anyway), i will compete......For what? simple fame, money sponsorship and so... I think there is a very few people to reject the opportunity to become a worldchampion (if they are capable of doing it).

For me, i will just wish to not to loose the instinct of hunting because of competitions......
 

Pekka

neoprene dreamer
Aug 22, 2001
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Spearfishing comp..

I would compete... I think it is not the most eco-style hunting one could do, but as Murat said the quantity of fish speared in one competition as a whole is small and the effect of competition on the fish stock is minimal..

I would agree that hunting and sport are different. In Sport the result is measured against your opponents fish, but in Hunting ones satisfaction is the main goal.. Both good in their own right.

Pekka
 

sturgeon

Well-Known Member
Feb 1, 2002
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Ben,

Spearfishing competitions have changed from the ones of old (at least here in the USA). USOA (Underwater Society of America) tournaments have a total allowed catch for the day and typically also impose size and bag limits above and beyond what State law is. As an example, this year's National Championships in Hawaii will have a restriction of no more than 3 fish of any one species allowed to be weighed in for the day. A non-competing spearo could actually go out and legally take more fish (and smaller ones) than what a competitor is allowed to. And yes, waste is not an issue as at most Nationals all fish are donated to charity.

Scott
 

Murat

Promethian
Jun 21, 2002
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Hey scott, does world championship competition based on those rules, or its like the european competition? Just curious...

and do you think entering competitions too much kills the fun of hunting?
 

rcerdena

New Member
Oct 24, 2003
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The CMAS, which rules most of the spearfishing competitions, has included some changes in the format of the competitions, due to the attack and misunderstanding of spearfishing from ecological groups.
Now all the captures are limited by quantities of each species that one can hunt, and of course the minimum weight according to each variety of fish. All of this depends, of course, on the area where the championship takes part, to try to minimize the impact of the fishing during the competition.
To minimize the luck factor of hunting a huge fish, the maximum weight is set to 12.5 kg, it doesn't matter if the fish weigh 20kg, it will give you 12500 points + the 500 points for piece + other extra points if the fish is the biggest capture of the competition.
I order to be penalized, the catch has to weight less than 70% of the weight set per specie.
(Bluewater competitions have other rules)

I have taken part for years in national competitions, and the people t hat had a lot of fishes with weitghts under the rules were mostly beginners or divers that didnt have a lot of experience.
Competitions are interesting, cause there you see, that even when 6 divers are diving in the same area, sometimes 2 of them get the fishes, due to better technique/ better apneas. And about the ''area knowledge'', it helps, but it has happened to me that i managed to win some competitions diving in some areas where I was diving for the first time.
The most important is to know the composition of the bottom, the shores and currents, to know the fishes, where they swim, where they hidde, what they eat, what kind of rocks they like and then addapt your fishing for those conditions.

Spearfishing is selective, but he commercial fishermen (mostly fish compressor-air-assisted) are the ones that overfish, take a lot of fish, and even when the water is dirty, some of them fish with explosives, and that is the worsth thing to happen.

RCC






Now about overfishing,
 

Ben Gowland

Aplysia gowlandicus
Apr 4, 2002
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Scott - I'm definitely intrigued by those rules as theoretically they could encourage people to shoot more than their quota and then throw away the smallest just before exiting the water. Nevertheless, that rules does seem more sensible than being able to take as many of one species as possible; and will encourage the diver to seek out new fish species rather than bagging a whole shoal. I like the way it is within the legal limits.

One of the biggest annoyances in the UK is the lack of government control over recreational fishing. I've seen how well such measures affect the ethos within the community and it seems beneficial. In this country, the number of fish taken recreationally is minescule and thus the government ignore it; but sadly the education that comes with such regulation in lost on the way.

Pekka - you must have access to the BSA competitions? There must be one or two held near you each year.

Ben
 

Pekka

neoprene dreamer
Aug 22, 2001
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Ben, yes there are few competitions here, I think one in plymouth area and the other Iam not sure where. I'll have to see this coming summer, as I have just got my gear here.. so soon we'll see.

Pekka
 

Wishbone

Paragraph aquanaut
Jan 13, 2002
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Dear Ben,

The issue has been discussed before, even though the question was never formulated so directly.

First of all I'd have to repeat myself and say that the issue is as controversial as in any other sport and this discussion will never have a clear answer.

And I'd rather disagree with Murat cause as a lawyer I must accept the definition of spearfishing given by CMAS /an developed for almost 50 years already/ and it clearly describes it as a sport.

Whether it's ethical or not I clearly cannot answer, since there is no commonly accepted definition of whats ethical and what's not. For some vegetarians, it's unethical to eat meat but as one friend put it while having his steak: "Just imagine what a mean creature this calf was! Eating all that poor grass."

So I'd rather focus on whether it makes us look bad or not.
As Rcerna and Scot already explained, the spearfishing competitions have developed a lot since the 60s and continue to evolve. Now CMAS goes through a rather explosive stage of modernization of its general attitude towards the spearfishing and its rules are constantly changing in attempts to find a formula that would please everyone. A rather impossible task if you ask me.
It should be clear that the CMAS rules provide only the general directions and are mostly applicable to the international events. Any local federation may adopt it's own rules. All those per species and size limits, bonification for diversification of the catchq etc., etc. are quite different form country to country. And that's how it should be since the local conditions and the reserves vary from one spot to other even in one country.

My personal opinion is that making the whole spearfishing sport/hobby as public as possible is a must.
We all know that if you sum all the catch from all competitions for a whole year it wouldn't beat even half of what an average trawler barfs to the fish market in one single day (at least in Europe)! If people know that, I think it would only help. And what if they sudenly realize what kind of effort it takes to win such a competition? And what effort, years of training and knowledge about the sea it takes to become an average spearo in general...
If we don't find a way to show the public what spearfishing really is, it will disappear very soon. It will die not only as a sport but as a hobby too. It will simply be banned to satisfy the cries of some moron who incomprehensively how qualifies killing plants as more ethical than killing animals. (I bet he'd really prefer digging for fish if he had to learn how to dive to -15 meters for a single lettuce or stick his head breathless in a dark cave for a cucumber, but anyway...)

So far the competitions are the only way to present the 'activity' to the public. And for some 50 years already noone managed to find a better way. If someone can do that, I really wouldn't mind! And I would give up on the whole competitions idea in a heartbeat! Not because I disapprove them, but for the good of the spearfishing.
Unfortunately I must agree that the competitions alone cannot do the trick and educate the public about the sport. Even with all the efforts CMAS spearfishing committee puts in developing more and more strict rules. Cause the discussion against the spearfishing is strong even inside the Organization and I have the feeling that the positions of the Committee is weaker than ever. I may also continue with the problems within all major Federations, but I guess this post became long enough already.

Let's face it guys! The situation is only getting worse for years already. And my personal opinion is that such general, endless, answerless internal debates don't make it any better...

Cheers,

Ivan
 

Murat

Promethian
Jun 21, 2002
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Originally posted by Wishbone
[B


(If people know that, I think it would only help. And what if they sudenly realize what kind of effort it takes to win such a competition? And what effort, years of training and knowledge about the sea it takes to become an average spearo in general...
If we don't find a way to show the public what spearfishing really is, it will disappear very soon. It will die not only as a sport but as a hobby too.
Cheers,

Ivan [/B]

Well, why don't you prepare some public publish then (may be international too)? About effects of spearfishing on marine reserves compare to the other commercial? I know this may seem bit aggressive towards the commercial fishers, but don't forget who is try to destroy the spearfishing hunting.May be compare to the line fisherman since they are the biggest opponent in the public eye.
Well its seems like war with other communities, and its true that we are the most little community among of these....But if they really want to bann the spearfishing, CMAS must do this soon or later....
And i don't think it is that easy to bann the spearfishing completely. May be only competitions...
 

Wishbone

Paragraph aquanaut
Jan 13, 2002
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Now unfortunately I personally cannot prepare anything, mate.

This is a task for the CMAS Spearfishing Committee. The only thing the local federations can do is deal with the stuff locally. We've persuaded the Board here and our international events and also some of the major local events have been covered by the biggest local TV stations with the help of the sponsors of the federation. But that's only the first step. And we can always try to launch ideas to the CMAS committee through its members.

Now CMAS Committee can't do any large scale campaign without the help of the equipment producers. And it gets really complicated from this point.
And you are wrong when you think that CMAS wants to ban the spearfishing or something. Not at all... But they may give up on it if it becomes too 'uncomfortable' to govern the activity... We have fresh examples of it happening on a local level here in Europe...

Even if such thing happens though it won't lead to the international ban of the sport. Another organisation will immediatly appear to do govern spearfishing. But it won't enjoy the reputation and the protection of an organization like CMAS. It will have to start from scratch in a hostile time and will simply be doomed to failiure...
Only the local governments/parliaments have the authority to ban the spearfishing by law. And it has nothing to do with CMAS. But once the international protection of the activity is gone it becomes much more vulnerable to local attacks.
As I already mentioned somewhere, I've seen only one public campaign in protection of spearfishing. It was launched in the specialized French prineted media by Beuchat. It represented sights of sea disasters and evidences of what humans can cause to the sea and the slogan was: "I am a spearo, but I care about the sea!".... A nice try, but that's only one campaign... And it was some years ago..

Ivan
 

Murat

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Jun 21, 2002
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Hey Ivan,

I am not saying that CMAS wants to ban spearfishing, i meant to be CMAS had to do something about it soon or late when the attacks become more serious.

I don't know much about the reputation of the spearfishing internationally and also don't know the power of the CMAS and other international federations but i don't think goverment can ban spearfishing here easily since we are small and tight comunity here....

I remmember last summer Türkey sent big trawler ships here to hunt but they had to return away because local fiherman force the goverment to do that...

But no body can really knows whats happening when its all about politics:D
 

Wishbone

Paragraph aquanaut
Jan 13, 2002
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Murat,

You won't believe how easy it is to ban any activity when there is stronger opposition than support for it. It just takes a somewhat motivated proposal for amendment of the Fishing Act (whatever the name is locally) and if the lobby supporting it is stronger (or noone really cares) the prpopsal just waits in the agenda to be voted. Once voted, you can forget about spearfishing.
CAMS is a member of UNESCO, which is a member of the UN. This provides it with enough authority since your country ratifies the corresponding UNESCO conventions. And if the local federation is a member of CMAS and also has some local authority it becomes much stronger. Per example our Federation is part of the National Sports Commission. This makes the spearfishing a nationally recognized sport. This made it quite duifficult to put any restrictions on it when the new Fishing and Aquacultures Act was adopted by the Parliament. It's not that difficult but when there is an opportunity and a clear policy and will, everything is possible.

And you are right about CMAS. I think they should act immediately too...

IB
 

ickledevil

take a breath and relax..
Apr 26, 2001
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As far as competitions go i'd have to side with ben.. ive been present at but not competed in competitions here in the uk, essentially competitors shoot as much as possible.. some and i think its a minority go for a select 3 or 4 BIG fish with the hope of winning. As i understand it points are awarded on weight of fish with additional points for variety.. true limits are imposed on minimum sizes etc but take fish like bass for example.. the prize catch for Uk spearfishers.. they take years to grow large and more importantly reach sexual maturity. Most of the competitions here now have certain fish off limits.. namely wrasse as they are so easy to shoot in large numbers.. i remember one competition where wrasse were allowed but over 1kg only.. there must have been over 1000kg of wrasse on the beach at the end of the day with little value to anyone, they are poor eating and as the law stands over here speared fish cant be sold or offered for sale which leaves the question what to do with them!? Most competitions here now make the competitors responsible for disposing of their catch and i think much must be thrown or wasted with only a little going to the freezer for eating, and this happens usually a couple of times a month with anything up to a hundred competitiors. True this is still no patch on commercial fishing but the inshore fishing grounds used by spearfishers are surely more fragile than the off shore ones. If the fish went to good use then im sure many peoples objections would be lessened.. its just a shame it cant be donated to homeless charitys etc. Anyway on a whole i think the idea of competions isnt neccesarily a bad one just the way they are done.. mayb fishing with a limit of a few fish each and the largest winning would be more acceptable. So no i wont compete because i like the moral high ground i take by not buying commercial caught fish of any sort and i think that the competition atmosphere is maybe just a couple of steps away from that, but i understand the need of some people to compete and just wish a different method could be found.
Just my rambling 2p worth
Joe
 

ickledevil

take a breath and relax..
Apr 26, 2001
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As far as competitions go i'd have to side with ben.. ive been present at but not competed in competitions here in the uk, essentially competitors shoot as much as possible.. some and i think its a minority go for a select 3 or 4 BIG fish with the hope of winning. As i understand it points are awarded on weight of fish with additional points for variety.. true limits are imposed on minimum sizes etc but take fish like bass for example.. the prize catch for Uk spearfishers.. they take years to grow large and more importantly reach sexual maturity. Most of the competitions here now have certain fish off limits.. namely wrasse as they are so easy to shoot in large numbers.. i remember one competition where wrasse were allowed but over 1kg only.. there must have been over 1000kg of wrasse on the beach at the end of the day with little value to anyone, they are poor eating and as the law stands over here speared fish cant be sold or offered for sale which leaves the question what to do with them!? Most competitions here now make the competitors responsible for disposing of their catch and i think much must be thrown or wasted with only a little going to the freezer for eating, and this happens usually a couple of times a month with anything up to a hundred competitiors. True this is still no patch on commercial fishing but the inshore fishing grounds used by spearfishers are surely more fragile than the off shore ones. If the fish went to good use then im sure many peoples objections would be lessened.. its just a shame it cant be donated to homeless charitys etc. Anyway on a whole i think the idea of competions isnt neccesarily a bad one just the way they are done.. mayb fishing with a limit of a few fish each and the largest winning would be more acceptable. So no i wont compete because i like the moral high ground i take by not buying commercial caught fish of any sort and i think that the competition atmosphere is maybe just a couple of steps away from that, but i understand the need of some people to compete and just wish a different method could be found.
Just my rambling 2p worth
Joe
 

Murat

Promethian
Jun 21, 2002
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Ivan, spearfishing is connected to local hunting federation here as all the other hunting categories. And it has no relation with international unions like CMAS or so... Poletics are bit different here. North cyprus is not recognise by other countryies so international laws, rules does not hold here... But things may change soon ( i hope it will )...
 

rcerdena

New Member
Oct 24, 2003
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For spearfishing and championships the local federations have to be involved in this issue. For example, our federation changes the weight and quantity of fishes allowed to be hunted from area to area. We all know, that in specific areas we can find lots of fishes but small ones, so there is no point of setting the minimum weight to 500gr, that way the hunting would have a tremendous impact on these fishes. We had championships where the minimum weight for some species was 2 or sometimes 3kg, and we all knew that getting one weighting that was difficult, but that was the rule of the championship!
Besides, during the championship you can't hunt small fishes and then you dont weight them, you have to weight all whats in your bag/boat.

Now about competing, yes I would keep on competing, cause its really fun, you get the chance to be with a lot of divers that share your same passion for the sea, navigate with a lot of boats, all in wet suits, all fishing, its just camaradery and a lot of fun!



Roberto
 

rigdvr

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May 28, 2002
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Originally posted by rcerdena

Spearfishing is selective, but he commercial fishermen (mostly fish compressor-air-assisted) are the ones that overfish, take a lot of fish, and even when the water is dirty, some of them fish with explosives, and that is the worsth thing to happen.
RCC
Now about overfishing, [/B]

This is so true but the average Joe on the street doesnt care. All they see is us holding a stringer of fish while they eat 1 fillet at Red Lobster. They cant put 2 and 2 together that the boat that produced that fillet is raping the seas...its only one fillet. Meanwhile Im holding a stringer of 20 fish, thats 40 fillets. Its like political ads, whens the last one youve seen that ever really made a statement? People dont care about reality and are easily swayed, thats what were up against.

As for competitions, I competete at the local level. WE have numerous "rodeo" that include scuba hunters as well as free divers such as the Hell Divers Rodeo. These competitions are open to the entire Gulf of Mexico so pressure one one area isnt an issue. Legal bag limits for the area are enforced. The steps taken by some bigger tournys are definately in the right direction like the more strict bag/size limit Scott mentioned. Remember, the reality is not important, its the percieved reality of the average Joe that will in the end decide the fate of our sport.
 
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Wishbone

Paragraph aquanaut
Jan 13, 2002
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Roberto is right when saying that any national or regional organized activity such as the competitions should be govern by the National/Regional federation. Otherwise the competitions will be treated as simple gatherings without any higher statute. CMAS provides only the general guidance for the organization of the competitions (except for the International ones included in the CMAS' calendar of events.
All local Federations, even the ones members of CMAS have the right to adopt local rules, including restrictions. CMAS cannot impose such restrictions since the local conditions vary. This actually answers Joe's post - if you are unhappy about the competition rules in the UK, blame it on the BSA (I think that's the name of your federation). I guess there is perfectly democratic decision making mechanism within the BSA, so the members of the Association have the opportunity to change the local rules. Now if they are not willing to do that, it's already a problem and it may provide for the spearo's negative image in the country... But the ball here is in the BSA (the British spearos respectively). It's up to you to change the things, including a ban on shooting inedible fish.

And by the way, you can always adopt the CMAS example and provide all the catch from any competition as a donation to a orphanage, hospital or any other institution that will be happy to get some fresh meat. It is there in their international rules!

You can also review the idea of inviting ichtiologysts from the marine biology institutes so they can examine the catch and do some scientific research. Knowing that the catch is taken from certain aquatory it will provide them with a clear idea of the populations in this area and many other stuff (signs of deseases, level of polution, etc.). And the BSA may draft its annual competition rules (limits and stuff, including specific regional ones) based on their reports in return. It's just an idea how to create a healthy relationship betwen the spearfishing and scientific community and do something usefull in the meantime.

It doesn't take much effort you know. :)

Ivan
 

sturgeon

Well-Known Member
Feb 1, 2002
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Ben,

You're right that by limiting the catch, 'culling' of fish for a larger one of the species is a practice that might possibly be promoted. But it’s highly illegal at all USOA Nationals and grounds for immediate disqualification if you’re caught doing it. This is easily enforced on boat tournaments because official observers are appointed to each boat but in kayak tournaments, it's an individual choice and mostly depends on the morals of each diver. Although, hopefully the threat of disqualification helps to deter the practice. In the 2 California Nationals I've done, the hosting council has had scientists there collecting data on all fish weighed in including weight, length, and stomach contents.

Scott
 
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