Spearfishers have often been maligned as indiscriminate killers because no catch-and-release method seemed possible. In reality, spearfishers have practiced catch and release in different ways for decades.
One method involves pulling a trigger on a camera instead of the speargun carried by the hunter or a buddy.
I know world record spearfishers who have had marlin dead in their sights and chose not to fire. It's no simple feat to capture quality photographs or video of wary prize fish, due to their speargun awareness. The very selective nature of spearfishing not only reduces by-catch and incidental mortality, but also gives a hunter an often-practiced option to count a personal coup by just cocking a thumb and firing only a pointing finger.
Some might argue that the shooter could have missed the shot as no touch was actually made. Paintball warriors are proof that technology can solve such problems in a shooting sport. Not long ago I experimented with attaching blunt rubber tips to my spears and did count as a coup a few nice sized sheepshead during the grouper and snapper closed seasons.
Keys to leaving the fish unharmed were the use of weak bands and shooting from a challenging distance that still allowed proper placement of the shot to a hard area, such as the bony parts of the head. Speared fish often survive grazed shots, but often die when gutshot. With more restrictive regulations on the way, I plan to further pursue "shoot and release" methods inspired by our hook and line fishing brothers and sisters.
Chad Carney teaches diving and spearfishing in the Tampa Bay area and can be called at (727) 423-7775 or visit his Web site at mobilescuba.com.