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Spearfishing: For and Against

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Spearfishing

Part 1: Against

Spearfishing – a sustainable form of hunting, or a cruel sport?

I have been asked to write a short article on spear fishing. I started research for this by web searching facts and figures and reading other peoples opinions. In the end I decide just to write this from my own life experiences and from the heart. I found the web searching to be confusing and incomplete. Statistics can be interpreted in many different ways to suit any argument and so become superfluous to many issues. We are so adept and skilled at justifying and rationalising our cruelty to other species as well as each other.

I used to fish when I was younger and was always thrilled by the moment of feeling something unknown on the end of my line. Then as the years flew by I became witness to appalling destruction and desecration of the marine environment by overfishing, pollution, industry and tourism. Fish numbers plummeted to the edge of extinction and glorious unique habitats became rubble wastelands. Then one day I said to my self ‘that’s enough for me’ and have never been able to support any sort of fishing industry since. Even the so-called fish farms can and do take a huge toll on the environment.

One may feel that spearfishing should stand apart from any form of commercial or recreational fishing as it is ultimately selective in the individual animals it targets. There is no by-catch, there is no habitat destruction and there is no waste. Partially true but not 100% correct. As an example in many parts of the world, as the oversized commercial fisheries took their toll so came the spearfishermen to take what was left. Totally uncontrolled, these hunters targeted the biggest and fittest of any species. The overall effect has been quite devastating. Breeding animals were disappearing leaving only the genetically weaker individuals to reproduce. This can lead to a great imbalance in any ecosystem and we, as humans, cannot even begin to predict where it will end. Species become weak and easy prey to others. Their role in maintaining a healthy habitat is diminished, perhaps even providing room for more destructive and unwanted species to move in and dominate.

I tried spearfishing once when I was a teenager. I cornered a small Pollack against a reef. I could see it was wary of me but it had nowhere to go. I eased closer until the tip of my spear was only a few feet away and the pulled the trigger. I remember that fish even after all these years, how it convulsed in shock and absolute pain.

It has been widely and conveniently thought that fish and other marine animals feel no pain, have no self awareness, have no emotions of any sort. We now know this is not true. Scientific research has found evidence of a limbic system in the fish brain. The limbic system in the human brain is believed to be responsible for emotions. Scientists have shown that the brain is active when fish experience pain. It is also now thought that fish have self-consciousness. In this context, self-consciousness means the ability to think about their own actions, to consider different possible scenarios and to modify their decisions on how to act as necessary. When we spear a fish it feels pain, fear and panic just as we would if we were speared somewhere in a field while on a walk. As with humans, fish do not often die immediately. They suffer loss of blood and go into shock. Then if they survive the long journey to the shore or a boat, they slowly suffocate in the air. It can be a long and painful death.

(For more about this, click here.)

People who spearfish are no doubt fit, agile and adventurous. The skills, training and endurance to be able to breath-hold for long periods are to be admired. But having acquired all that, where is the skill in then spearing a fish that has little concept of what is about to happen to it? Most likely the fish will not dart away as the hunter approaches but remain in its territory watching with caution as to what will take place next. Then in an instant the spear penetrates its body – a bit like the sportsman’s equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. I am often told by people who spear that they only take what is needed for the pot. Perhaps so, but they take the biggest of the species, the ones best suited for mating. Still they cause great suffering and pain to an individual.

This does of course beg the question of commercial fisheries. If we are at all concerned with animal welfare as we say we are, we really need to address the issues of inhumanely killing untold millions of sea creatures every year.

If freedivers need to test their skills and endurance, I would recommend trying to film or photograph the fish instead of killing it. A person spear fishing doesn’t even really need to get that close to their prey to fire a spear, but taking a good picture requires infinitely more skill as you need to get closer and for longer.

As a species we have a blinkered attitude to other species that show no familiar outward human-like behaviour, especially if we are unable to hear their cries. We blindly ignore their lives. It intrigues me, when with a group of divers returning to the boat or shore, that they will be excited and animated about the fish or octopus or lobster they have just seen. Only moments later they seem to switch off their brains in the café and order fish, calamari or lobster without even a second thought. On the next dive they will complain that the fish have gone or the huge lobster on the wreck is no longer there.

If you are tempted to go into your local dive shop to buy a spear gun can I ask you to reconsider and ask about an underwater camera instead? The adventure will last longer as the fish will still be there the following day and in the end give a great deal more excitement and pleasure.

What are your thoughts on Spearfishing? Let us know in the comments section below.

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

Miscellaneous Blogs

Book Review – The Final Dive: The Life and Death of ‘Buster’ Crabbe (2007)

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It was the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Cruiser Ordzhonikidz, supported by two destroyers, had brought Soviet leaders Khruschev and Bulganin to Britain for sensitive meetings with the British Government. The ships were moored in Portsmouth harbour and the Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, had expressly forbidden any clandestine inspection of them. However, on the morning of 19th April 1956 Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabbe, an experienced naval diver, slipped into the cold waters of Portsmouth harbour. His top secret mission was to photograph the hull, propellers and rudder of the Ordzhonikidze. He was never seen alive again.

A badly decomposed body, with head and hands missing, was discovered by fishermen in Chichester harbour months later. It was claimed to be the missing body of Buster Crabbe – but many had doubts. The incident marked the start of a controversy that claimed the posts of several high ranking naval, government and intelligence service personnel. The author of The Final Dive, Don Hale, claims it is one that still rages and which may not be resolved even when secret government files are released in 2057.

Don Hale, an acknowledged campaigning journalist and former Journalist of the Year brings all his experience and skill to unravelling this longstanding scandal. He has drawn upon official reports and private letters, statements from government representatives, fellow officers and friends to piece together Buster’s life and events leading to his disappearance and subsequent investigation. He speaks of “inquiries blocked by intrigue, constant cover-ups and government bureaucracy coupled with threats relating to the Official Secrets Act” (p. xi). If you like reading about subterfuge on a grand scale you will enjoy The Final Dive.

Don Hale’s meticulous account of the life of Buster Crabbe is supported by dozens of black and white photos and extracts from numerous official documents. It reveals how an amazing series of civilian jobs, wartime activities and friendships with high ranking government officials, British intelligence officers, American CIA operatives. . . and now known spies, prepared him for his final dive and perhaps his fate. One of Crabbe’s acquaintances was the author Ian Fleming – of James Bond fame. Indeed, it is suggested that Fleming based the character of 007 on Buster Crabbe. After reading of his exploits, both before WWII, his bomb disposal work during the war, and afterwards it is easy to see why. Certainly, those who worked with Buster Crabbe “all agree he was fearless.” (p.59). After reading of his exploits one wonders if he was too fearless.

In the later stage of Buster’s life, prior to his disappearance, Don Hall recounts “a constant merry-go-round of overseas assignments” (p. 118) for Crabbe and how he “began to receive increasingly hazardous commissions” (p. 136). It culminated in the morning dive in Portsmouth harbour. Hale’s forsensic-like account of the events surrounding the final dive and aftermath reveals absolute panic and bungling behind the scenes as official answers conflict with known facts. He describes how “The whole incident still seems bathed in secrecy, with the true facts deliberately buried in bureaucracy, and supported at the highest level by an incredible cover-up operation”.(p. 205).

A final comment by Don Hale adds to the intrigue. He states “The only part of the Crabbe puzzle about which I am not certain is not who sent him – we know the answer to that – but why on earth he was he sent, possibly at considerable risk?” (p. 248). After reading The Final Dive: The Life and Death of ‘Buster’ Crabbe you will no doubt have your own ideas.


The Final Dive: The Life and Death of ‘Buster’ Crabbe (2007)

  • By Don Hale
  • Stroud: Sutton Publishing
  • ISBN 978 0 7509 4574 5
  • 260 pp

Don Hale was a professional footballer before becoming editor of several regional newspapers. He has received numerous national and international awards for investigative journalism including Journalist of the Year. In 2002 he was awarded an OBE for his campaigning journalism in the Stephen Downing miscarriage of justice case. He has championed several others who have been wrongly convicted.

His other books include Town without Pity (2002), Murder in the Graveyard (2019) and Mallard: How the ‘Blue Steak’ Broke the World Speed Record (2019).


Find out more about Professor Fred Lockwood, who is also a published author, at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.

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Miscellaneous Blogs

The BiG Scuba Podcast… Catching up with Cristina Zenato and Kewin Lorenzen

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It’s a year since Gemma and Ian spoke with Cristina Zenato and produced Episodes 9, 12 and 21.  We also spoke to Kewin Lorenzen on Episode 13.  The year of 2020 was challenging for everyone but we hear that for both Cristina and Kewin it was a positive year with changes made to bring them both into 2021 with fresh ideas.  We hear how the sharks are and what amazing progress has been made with the cave exploration and the People of the Water Charity.

Have a listen here:


Find more podcast episodes and information at the new www.thebigscuba.com  website and on most social platforms @thebigscuba 

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

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This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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