Is Spearfishing Ethical?

Is Spearfishing Ethical?


So, you ask me “Do I think spearfishing is ethical”? “Do I think it is sporty”? In the last month, I have received 20 plus emails from rod and reel fisherman asking me this question. I have always figured that if one person is willing to come forward with a question then,  there are at least a 1000 or more people with the same or similar question. Considering this philosophy, I have decided to write a short blurb on the subject, not to mention, I don’t want to keep answering the same question over and over on email. Hopefully the following will help you to better understand the extreme sport of spear fishing.

Spearfishing is arguably the most ethical way of taking fish of all the fishing disciplines. Let’s take a closer look at what is required to spearfish/freedive. First, you have to consider spear fishermen (spearos) who are highly trained individuals, doing required training specifically for the purpose of their sport. They do this physical training so they are capable of taking fish at depth. For example, their daily training is commonly, cardiovascular exercise, mind and body training, pool training, as well as breath hold training.  Breath hold training routines are when the spearo will hold their breath while engaging in walking, running weight training and underwater pool training. Combined with these exercises there are a host of techniques that the freediver uses to get their body acclimated to the hypercapnic (increased blood Co2 level) state they are in while diving. Elevated Co2 levels are the body’s primary drive to breath and spearos/freedivers have to overcome this drive. They also require an abnormally low heart rate (HR) between 30 and 40 beats per minute. To achieve this low HR, meditation techniques are used combined with cardiovascular exercise. Training for the avid spearo is 4 to 7 days per week at 1.5 to 3 hours per day. I don’t think we will disagree about the spearos dedication to their sport.

Next, there are fishing techniques to consider. Like other disciplines, 5% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish. There are many techniques required to hunt fish effectively. For example, spearos can’t look at the fish, they have to look through the fish, they can’t move their body or gun until the time is just right and even then movement is limited and risky. They hunt with a low hidden profile in the rocks or low against the ocean bottom. They also learn to understand fish action and reaction. These are a few of the spearos learned hunting techniques. Hunting fish is like hunting any other animal or even rod and reel fishing, each require their own special skill set. The spearo must know where the fish are and when they will be there just like any accomplished rod and reel fisherman.

Let’s keep in mind the techniques mentioned above and the techniques I am about to mention below will be practiced by the spearo in an apneic state (without air!).  It is not uncommon for the fish in the north to be in 75 feet of water and in the south 130 feet of water is common. So, the spearo must be calm and maintain a low HR while suppressing all and any anxiety. He will use and change his hunting techniques during the dive. He must position himself properly and wait for an opportunity or he must move along the bottom if the opportunity does not present itself. He will encounter unavoidable physical activity with each dive including but not limited to, kicking 3 foot free diving fins up and down the water column from the surface to the ocean floor. He must deal with currents, lost fishing line and nets that can cause him to get tangled, boats running over his head and all his spearfishing gear. He is on a schedule, always calculating bottom time, surface time and depth with each dive and maintaining a formula with this information so he can avoid shallow water black out which can lead to death. Let me take you along on a spearos freedive. Imagine yourself laying on the surface of the water relaxing, you take one last long deep breath, focus your mind and remove your snorkel from your mouth. You pierce the surface and kick your way down through the water column toward the bottom. As you descend you clear your ears to avoid internal ear damage and pain. At 55 feet you can see the bottom and you scan it for life. You see movement or life and you slowly turn one of your fin blades to change direction (similar to the rudders on an airplane). Once you are on the bottom you must relax and maintain your low heart rate, if your HR is high, you will scare fish and risk death due to increased oxygen consumption. The 75 feet of water above your head cannot cause you any anxiety or your heart will increase to dangerous levels. You have to wait for your selected fish to get close enough for a shot; sometimes this can take several minutes. If the fish doesn’t get close enough, you return to the surface and do it again and again and again, all day long until the right opportunity presents itself. Now let’s not forget when you are able/willing to harvest a fish you have to deal with that fish all the way to the surface. All the while your HR must be kept low. This is all done on ONE BREATH!

One last thing to consider, there is zero bycatch when spear fishing. What you shoot is what you get. No other fish are wounded or killed in the process. I am sure that there is no other fishing discipline that can claim zero bycatch.

Spearfishing is a beautiful sport that is likely the first method man used to harvest fish for his survival. It brings with it a feeling of freedom like none other. I do hope that anyone that is reading this who hasn’t participated in freediving will in the future.

So do I think spear fishing is ethical?   Is it sporty? I will say, “Undoubtedly Yes”, but maybe I’m biased on the subject matter. Now that you have an understanding of this extreme sport, the important question is “what do you think”?


By David Hochman