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Spear Guns? Remember the Rules!

An alarming number of spear guns have been seized since the start of lobster season (1 December) and the Department of Environment’s (DOE) enforcement officers are taking this very seriously.

According to Marine Enforcement Officer Ronnie Dougall, more than 25 spear guns have already been seized by the unit this month and the department is sending the message to the public that there are serious consequences for possessing an unlicensed or otherwise illegal spear gun in the Cayman Islands.

The DOE is also reminding the public that these consequences are far greater than simple confiscation of the spear gun itself; officers have the right to seize all implements used in the illegal activity-including the boat and the vehicle used to tow it. Ultimately, final forfeiture is decided by the Court.

To date, the largest fine imposed for possession of an unlicensed spear gun was CI$3,000 and forfeiture of the vessel used. Penalties can be as much as CI$500,000, in fines and up to one year’s imprisonment for those found guilty for this type of offence.

"What we have been finding lately is that people are feigning ignorance of the law but as we question these individuals, we recognize that they are actually well aware. On the provisional license currently required, it clearly dictates the parameters of using a spear gun and therefore, persons cannot claim not to know when they are in the wrong, especially since this license must be on them at all times when using the spear gun," says Mr. Dougall.

According to the Marine Conservation Law, there are basic rules regarding proper use of a spear gun:

  • you must be licensed and over the age of 18;
  • you can only own one spear gun;
  • your license must be renewed annually;
  • you must have clean criminal record to qualify;
  • you must be Caymanian or have Caymanian Status;
  • you cannot use a spear gun (or any instrument used to pierce marine life) in a Marine Park, Replenishment Zone, Environmental Zone, within any lagoon, sound, or body of which is 20 feet or less in depth, within 200 feet of a vessel flying a dive flag, or within one mile of any designated grouper spawning area; and,
  • users may take a maximum of three fish within a 24-hour period
  • no one may have in their possession more than six fish taken with a spear gun.

The Marine Conservation Board has been issuing provisional licenses since 2001 but will now be issuing permanent ones. These will be similar to the provisional licenses in that they too will state parameters for spear gun use. However, the permanent licenses will also require current photo identification and an inspection and photograph of the equipment being licensed.

"These rules are straight forward and listed on the license so it is hard for anyone to plead ignorance," reminds Mr. Dougall. "Our hope is that people will realise that it is a privilege to own a spear gun, one that can easily be forfeited when misuse is discovered."

Marine enforcement officers strongly urge all members of the public who use this fishing method to re-familiarize themselves with current Marine Laws.

These can be accessed via the government website at gov.ky or by visiting the department at the Marco Giglioli Building at 580 North Sound Road. To contact the DOE, call 949-8469.

For further information contact: Ruth Smith