January 2010 Underwater Hunting
Finishing up the last details for our Team Manta trip to Roatan, I happened to be talking with Mario Maritato, diver, and Team Manta divemaster. Those who know Mario know that he also is an underwater photographer and spear fisherman. Mario had just returned from the Bahamas where he had done a little spear fishing. As we talked, I realized that spearfishing is yet another facet of diving to be explored.
Though he enjoys diving as a passive, observational sport, as a hunter, Mario was intrigued when a friend suggested that he try lobstering about 15 yrs ago, and spearfishing was a natural next step.
If you are interested in spearfishing, your first step would be to inform yourself as to the local laws regarding spear fishing. For example, some places forbid spearing while on scuba, and others only allow only certain types of spear guns. Spear fishing is forbidden in marine parks, so it is essential that you know where the parks are and avoid them. There are usually seasons for particular fish and bag limits, as well as fish that are illegal to take. Since not all fish are good to eat, and as mentioned earlier, some fish, such as the Goliath grouper, are protected, you need to brush up on your fish identification. These are all restrictions designed to protect the fish population and to protect what is often a staple food for native people. A reputable fishing operation would be able to help you get the right information. If you are fishing with a professional fishing operation, you generally do not have to get an individual fishing permit, as you are covered under the boat’s license.
You must also get very close to your target in order to assure a clean shot. Mario says, “If you think you’re close enough, get closer.” Most hunters will need to be within 4-6 ft of their quarry to get a good shot. Obviously, if you don’t “stone” (instantly kill) the fish, it could swim away and wedge itself in the reef, making it difficult to retrieve. Underwater hunters need to be aware, also, that they are hunting in 3D. Targets may be above or below, not just in front or behind.
“Spear fishing is a challenging and fun activity, but you need to remember that you are first a scuba diver,” cautions Mario. All the safety rules about ascents, descents and bottom time still apply. As all divers can attest, it is very easy to lose track of time and depth when you are thoroughly absorbed in the wonder around you. This is doubly so when your mind is actively engaged in stalking your prey. Wise use of the alarm features of your dive computer is advised. Excellent buoyancy skills are a must for your protection, and the protection of the reef. You also have to be wary of attracting the attention of sharks. They smell the blood of the fish and are naturally curious as to whether or not they can get a free meal. “If a shark comes around you when you have a bag of fish, the worst thing you can do is give him your catch,” warns Mario. This only trains sharks that spear fishers will feed them if they are persistent. The hunter needs to stand his ground, perhaps needing to poke the shark with his spear. This generally sends the message that this is not the easy meal the shark had hoped for and the shark will swim off.
Mario believes that it does not negatively impact the reef if spear fishing is done outside of marine parks and hunters only take game that they will be eating. It is not difficult to find a local chef willing to cook your fish for you. You may also bring your catch home to enjoy with your friends later. The sport of spear fishing is also being used to try to decrease the population of lionfish. Some places even hold contests to see who can get the biggest or smallest lionfish! One such contest was publicized by CBS news: http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/08/25/couricandco/entry5264986.shtml
Mario feels that many of the techniques he uses in spear fishing have translated well to underwater photography. Approach your subject slowly, swimming parallel to it. Do not make eye contact until you are ready to take the shot. Control your breathing. Whether you’re hunting with a camera or a spear gun the thrill of the hunt is just one more exciting facet of SCUBA DIVING. Look for a Manta Divers underwater hunting class in the future!
In Other News………….
Remember to watch Team Manta’s Facebook page for notes about our adventure in Roatan. (Given successful web connection)
For a limited time buy a Gekko dive computer and get a free pair of Techamphibian 2 water shoes!
Now is a good time to take a look at your dive gear in anticipation of upcoming trips. Don’t let dead batteries or leaking hoses ruin your vacation.
Reminder! The shop will be closed January 11-14 while we are diving in Roatan.