Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#266: Weirdo Spearos

"I'm going to kill something today" I heard a diver exclaim last summer as he brandished his brand new Hawaiian sling before boarding the King Neptune. Oh, boy... I could see we were in for an interesting day. He was not alone. Another member of his group had also purchased his first spear, and two of the other divers had gone full bore and bought spear guns. This was going to take some patience and education.

Those who read my columns regularly know that I have no problem with spearos... except perhaps Spiro T. Agnew for those of you "mature" enough to remember him. A spearo is a gender neutral term for one who spearfishes. Two of my favorite buddies are spearos, and I'll dive with them any time whether they are "catching" fish by hunting... or filming. They know the rules, and can identify their target and ensure it is of legal size before releasing their spear shafts. Besides, they occasionally let me dine on the resulting catch! Free meals are always welcome... even if there's somewhat of a "catch" associated with them!

It was obvious these four had never used a spear or speargun in their lives. Other divers on the boat were definitely a bit nervous with them around. No one likes to be taking a picture of a sheephead only to have a spear penetrate it as the shutter is clicked... or even worse, penetrate the diver as they press the shutter. Captain Tony, the divemasters and I did everything we could to ensure these divers knew what was legal to take at that time and what the size limits were. I spent time with two of them, showing them pictures of the two species I thought they should target and ensuring they knew what was the minimum legal size.

Although I encountered all four of them on my dives, I survived intact as did most of my subjects. A diver did take one grass rockfish I was filming, but only after I finished (how courteous). I was assisting on the swim step when one of the spearos returned... with a six inch sheephead on the end of the spear. When a child hooks a six inch bass on the pier, it can be released albeit with some potential injury. When a "weirdo spearo" drives a six foot spear shaft through the body of such a tiny fish, there is no hope for its survival.

Controlling my irritation, I asked the diver if he knew what kind of a fish it was. He didn't (despite my best attempts to educate him before hand). When I told him and asked if he knew what the legal limit was for that species, he said he didn't. When I told him twelve inches, his response was "well, it looked much larger underwater." While there is a certain truth to this, it is important for a spearo to know what a legal sized fish looks like underwater... and exercise restraint if there is any question. Captain Tony, the DM's and myself used the surface interval for a little "re-education" of these divers.

Now I've encounter "slow learners" many times in my days as a high school teacher and college professor. These four proved they would hardly pass my test. After the second dive, they returned with several undersized fish... which had to be returned to the water for "burial." One of them also brought back several opaleye which are hardly known as a gourmet delicacy. Most consider them a trash fish. I asked if the spearo knew what species they were and he responded "duh, no" (okay, I added the "duh" part here myself). "Then why did you shoot them if you didn't know what they were?" I replied, clenching my teeth... and fists. I decided it was time to declare these four divers uneducable (who says there is no "child" left behind?), and just focus on my diving and filming. Fortunately the crew kept up the pressure with equally poor success.

Fortunately most spearos recognize these "weirdo spearos" give the rest of them an undeserved bad name. Spearfishing is a very appropriate way for a good diver to hunt game for food. By virtue of being underwater, instead of topside like a fisher using a rod-and-reel, the spearo can see his target, estimate its size and be selective in what he shoots at. Bait at the end of a submerged hook can't judge what species is caught, and whether it is legal to catch or of legal size, so there is always the danger of by-catch... the taking of unwanted species. Those of you who prefer to "catch" your fish from the shelves of the meat counter at Vons should know that the commercial take of many species often involves issues of by-catch, and destruction of habitat for all species in those ecosystems. And it is important that our visitors and residents alike know that spearfishing is illegal in the waters off the incorporated City of Avalon.

© 2008 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my "Munching and Mating in the Macrocystis," "Great White Sharks of Guadalupe," "Calimari Concupiscence: Mating Squid, " "Playful Pinnipeds: California Sea Lions," "Belize It or Not: Western Caribbean Invertebrates, Fish and Turtles," "Gentle Giants: Giant Sea Bass" or "Common Fish and Invertebrates of the Sea of Cortez" DVD's. Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

A much more enlightened spearo waiting for the right shot at the right species.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2008 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia