If you’re like most people, any video you’ve ever seen of someone spearfishing is typically done by a freediver.
And that may lead you to wonder, is spearfishing on a scuba tank allowed?
The short answer is that the legality surrounding spearfishing on a scuba tank varies by jurisdiction. In most of the United States, it’s completely legal, whereas in Europe and the Caribbean the practice is banned.
Now that we’re on the topic of spearfishing with scuba tanks, let’s jump into some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method.
Advantages of Spearfishing on Scuba
The most apparent advantage of spearfishing while on a scuba tank is that you’ll have a massively increased bottom time, compared to a freediver. The best free divers can regularly stay underwater for 3-5 minutes, while a full scuba tank at 20m can last for over 20 minutes. This disparity only increases in shallower water.
One aspect of spearfishing on scuba diving that most don’t think of, is that hunters are able to be much more selective when it comes to picking their prey. While freediving, you may only go after what you see immediately upon dropping, whereas on scuba you have plenty of time to look around.
The last reason spearfishermen may prefer to dive on scuba is that it’s much safer. It’s hard to pinpoint exact free diving death statistics, but let’s try and put it into perspective. DAN, one of the leading scuba diving insurance providers, has somescuba diving statistics and estimates recreational scuba diving fatalities to be 16.4 deaths for every 100,000 participants. An old ABC statistic from 2002 claims that of 5000 freedivers, 100 are expected to die each year, but it’s unclear whether this is recreational or competitive divers. There are also way more freedivers nowadays than in 2002 as science has improved. So it’s hard to say, but the freediving and spearfishing combination is definitely more dangerous than scuba.
Disadvantages of Spearfishing on Scuba
The first disadvantage of spearfishing on scuba is that you generally make more noise than a freediver, due to your endless stream of bubbles. Fish will still swim nearby, but you may scare a few skittish fish away because of this.
The next “disadvantage” of using scuba while spearfishing is that it may be looked down upon by the community, or outright illegal in your area. Whether you should care about other divers opinions is one thing, but if it’s outright illegal where you’re diving, follow the rules and don’t do it.
The last disadvantage is that it’s a less sustainable practice than spearfishing while scuba diving. The chance of success is much higher, and you’ll get to be a more selective species and sizewise.
If more trophy fish such as Hogfish, Tunas, and Groupers are killed then there’s less to reproduce for the future. Also according to Scubadiving.com “The main indicator of ‘fitness (to reproduce)’ in fish is size — it really matters. A 100-centimeter grouper produces about 15 times as many eggs as a 40-centimeter grouper does.” So if large rare trophy fish are specially targetted, it can cause their populations to dwindle.
That being said, all spearfishing is infinitely more sustainable than nets or trawling.
Notable Destinations Take on Spearfish on Scuba
Some of the most popular places where it’s legal to spearfish on a scuba tank include Florida, Costa Rica, the Philippines, and Peru.
A few notable places where spearfishing is not allowed on a scuba tank include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and pretty much all of Europe.
Other areas get tricky like Hawaii, where it’s legal to spearfish on scuba but not on the Western side of the main island. In Indonesia, you’re allowed to scuba dive and spearfish, unless it’s inside a national park.
There’s often a lot of nuance to this rule, for example in Australia and NZ it’s legal to scuba dive for scallops and sea urchins. Another interesting exception is for invasive species like Lionfish or Snakehead, where basically any tactic of killing them is fair game.
How to Find Your Areas Regulations
In order to find the regulations of your area, you can first try a simple google search.
We came across the FWC, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as the group in charge. You can scan their website or give them a call to find out more.
Most countries or states will have a governing agency to regulate wildlife, like the European Commission in the EU and the department of primary industries in Australia.
Another way to find out the rules and regulations in your area is to speak to local experts like dive and fishing charters. If they don’t know themselves, they should be able to point you in the right direction.
The reason spearfishing on scuba is banned in many places is similar to that of hunting with a gun vs bow and arrow. One is clearly more difficult and fairer to the animal. With a bow, you can only kill the animals you track, and stalk correctly.
Whereas a rife with a scope, all of that is out of the window. At pretty much any range, as long as you can line it up, the kill is yours.
Spearfishing is one of the most sustainable ways to fish, regardless of what method you use, and takes serious courage to attempt. Assuming you’re spearfishing legally, there should be no shame in doing so on a scuba tank.
If you want to learn more about the commercial side of spearfishing, this video provides some great insight into that: