The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources has decided in a 4-2 vote to ban SCUBA spearfishing off West Hawaii after hearing more than six hours of testimonials. This type of fishing, assisted by SCUBA gear, is common by local fishermen who vocalized their opposition to the ban.
The AP reported that the rules were developed over 10 years of discussion and hearings by the West Hawaii Fisheries Council community advisory group. The group was founded after a 1998 law that was formed to help manage arguments about fishing in West Hawaii. With the aid of SCUBA equipment, fishermen are able to easily catch larger fish without much trouble, which some say raises ethical questions about technology-assisted spearfishing. Some argue it is simply a matter of taking too much, and still support traditional spearfishing in shallower waters. Others were not in favor of the ban because they were worried it would lead to other bans in Hawaii.
Tony Costa, of Hawaii Nearshore Fishermen, said banning scuba spearfishing would compromise the community’s ability to gather food, as well as makes it unsafe and difficult to gather food. He said the abundant fish catch of fishermen confirms stocks are healthy, the AP reported.
“The use of scuba and spear is the nature of our gathering style. We have been sustainably gathering, harvesting in this manner for the last 50 years,” Costa told the AP.
Spearfishing is an ancient form of fishing, but has been modernized with elastic-powered spear guns or compressed gas pneumatic-powered spear guns. The use of the latter along with SCUBA spearfishing is illegal in many countries. It is thought that this style of fishing dates back at least 16,000 years ago, as cave drawings in France depict seals killed through what seems to be spearfishing. As far as conservation, spearfishing has been pointed to as the cause for the extinction of several species such as the Atlantic goliath grouper near the Caribbean island of Bonaire, the Nassau grouper off the coast of Belize, and the black sea bass in California.
The board also approved a new rule limiting aquarium fish collection to 40 species in West Hawaii waters.