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We developed and applied a method to quantify spearfisher effort and catch, shark interac- tions and shark depredation in a boat-based recreational spearfishing competition in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Queensland. Survey questions were designed to collect targeted quantitative data whilst minimising the survey burden of spearfishers. We provide the first known scientific study of shark depredation during a recreational spearfishing competition and the first scientific study of shark depredation in the Great Barrier Reef region. During the two-day spearfishing competition, nine vessels with a total of 33 spearfishers reported a catch of 144 fish for 115 h of effort (1.25 fish per hour). A subset of the catch comprised nine eligible species under competition rules, of which 47 pelagic fish were weighed. The largest fish captured was a 34.4 kg Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus). The most common species captured and weighed was Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson). The total weight of eligible fish was 332 kg and the average weight of each fish was 7.1 kg. During the two-day event, spearfishers functioned as citizen scientists and counted 358 sharks (115 h effort), averaging 3.11 sharks per hour. Grey Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) comprised 64% of sightings. Nine speared fish were fully depredated by sharks as spearfishers attempted to retrieve their catch, which equates to a depredation rate of 5.9%. The depredated fish included four pelagic fish and five reef fish. The shark species responsible were Grey Reef Shark (C. amblyrhynchos) (66%), Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) (11%), Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus) (11%) and Great Ham- merhead (Sphyrna mokarran) (11%). There were spatial differences in fish catch, shark sightings and rates of depredation. We developed a report card that compared average catch of fish, sightings of sharks per hour and depredation rate by survey area, which assists recreational fishers and marine park managers to assess spatio-temporal changes. The participating spearfishers can be regarded as experienced (average 18 days a year for average 13.4 years). Sixty percent of interviewees perceived that shark numbers have increased in the past 10 years, 33% indicated no change and 7% indicated shark numbers had decreased. Total fuel use of all vessels was 2819 L and was equivalent to 6.48 tons of greenhouse gas emissions for the competition.
Controversial, divisive, emotive: Spearfishing has many detractors. But if you care about the health of our oceans, and you’re still eating fish, it might be time to consider whether going out and catching it on a breath-hold dive, adhering to strict “best practices”, is one of the more sustainable ways to be doing it. Here, Dr Adam Smith, who has published research on the issue, shares some well-balanced insights on why he chooses to spearfish for his seafood.
Proponents argue that spearfishing is selective and ecologically sustainable. The article discusses the good, the bad and the ugly of spearfishing. If focussed on recommended best practice and poor practice. Keystone species and fish that the reef needs are listed.