Is Spearfishing Illegal?

Is Spearfishing Illegal?

Spearfishing while SCUBA diving is legal in the United States but is illegal in Europe and the Caribbean. Spearfishing is an activity that is popular among thousands. It is legal in most countries, but prohibited in specific places such as marine protected areas!

Competitions are held in spearfishing, professional, non-professional and amateur! You might have heard about prohibited spearfishing, causing you to wonder if spearfishing is illegal?

Within this article, we will talk about the following points:

  • What is spearfishing?
  • Spearfishing is legal
  • Marine protected areas
  • Spearfishing with Scuba gear is illegal 

Make sure you catch this opportunity to learn more about spearfishing! Get it?

What is Spearfishing?

Spearfishing is underwater hunting, which increased in popularity after World War II. Free-divers and snorkelers submerge underwater with handheld weapons, ranging from spears to guns. Spearfishers hunt marine animals such as Sea Bass and Cod. 

This activity is enjoyed by people all over the world, creating clubs which hold national and international competitions! If there are global competitions, Spearfishing must be legal, right?

Spearfishing is Legal

Spearfishing while snorkelling and freediving is legal in most countries. However, laws can vary hugely from country to country and spearfishing is no exception to this. If you are planning on going spearfishing, please check the laws according to the country you are within. 

Below are general rules for spearfishing within the UK and the United States to provide examples of what is legal and what is prohibited by the law. Spearfishing within the UK has very similar laws to European countries, due to being previously established by the European Union. 

Within the UK, you can spearfish along the whole coast without a permit. Spearfishing is legal during the day, without a licence requirement. The UK has some restrictions in place, such as:

  • Spearfishing is forbidden in freshwater systems, such as lakes and rivers.
  • Spearfishing is illegal during the night, between dusk and dawn. 
  • Spearfishing is illegal in marine protected areas

There are also restrictions on species, catch limits and measurements of catch. Applying a minimum size on a catch ensures that you are only taking mature adults from the population, who are more likely to have already reproduced. 

Smaller individuals can go on to reproduce and the species are more likely to survive in the natural environment. For example, Sea bass is one of the most popular fish caught in the UK. 

Minimum size of 42cm is in place, preventing juvenile fish from being caught. This species is also banned from being caught from December to February and Spearos can only keep two seabass a day. 

Another example of minimum size is Cod. The IUCN status of Cod is Globally Vulnerable, meaning they are at high risk of becoming extinct within the wild populations. The minimum size of Cod caught in the UK is 35cm. 

Spearfishing in the United States is legal, with minimum and maximum catch sizes. There are also specific species that you are allowed to catch. Before spearfishing in the United States, please check the laws relevant to the state you are in.

Within the United States, Spearfishing has the following restrictions:

  • Spearfishing in freshwater is prohibited.
  • Spearfishing within 100ft of public swimming is prohibited.
  • Spearfishing has a list of specific species which cannot be spearfished by law. 
  • Spearfishing is prohibited in Protected areas and parks. 

Spearfishing in the United States also has specific catch sizes to maintain the natural population of each species!

Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas are an effective method of preventing biodiversity and species within that area. There are many reasons why certain areas are protected, including economic, biodiversity and species richness. 

Protecting specific marine areas from boats, fishing and other threats helps maintain populations by reducing catches. Other benefits of marine protected areas include conserving biodiversity. 

Biodiversity is the number of species found in one area. The higher the biodiversity, the richer the number of species within that area.

The health of an ecosystem depends on the variety of organisms working together to balance and support life.

Human populations benefit greatly from ecosystem services, therefore marine protected areas conserve these economic, environmental and social benefits. 

Spearfishing with Scuba Gear is Illegal in Some Locations

Across the EU, spearfishing with Scuba equipment has been banned since 2019. Spearfishing is therefore illegal in European countries and Caribbean nations. However, it is not illegal in the United States. 

There are many reasons why spearfishing with Scuba equipment is illegal! One reason is that Scuba divers have an unfair advantage on the prey! While Scuba diving, the diver can stay underwater for a prolonged period, defying the laws of human nature. 

Spearfishing while free-diving adds excitement and challenge. You can only stay down as long as you can hold your breath, giving a level playing field with the prey!

With a weapon in your hand and a regulator in your mouth, Spearfishing is made easy. Fishermen often say the joy of fishing is within the thrill of the hunt itself. Therefore, with the difficulty of free diving removed, spearfishing with Scuba equipment is unfair, unethical and some would say too easy!

Another reason why spearfishing with Scuba equipment is illegal is that it gives the diver a longer time beneath the surface.

With added time, such divers can exceed legal limits of catch, and target specific species that require time and more depth to catch! 

Research has shown that Spearfishing with Scuba equipment has negative impacts on coral reefs. This is due to integral coral reef fish being targeted, such as parrotfish. With parrotfish hunted and their population reduced, fewer algal grazers maintain the health of the corals, resulting in a negative impact on their health! 

Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!

Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.

Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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Final thoughts

Spearfishing is a very popular activity, legal in many countries all over the world. However, there are laws in place which you need to respect. Marine protected areas and restrictions on catch size are designed to protect the beautiful environment which we enjoy spending time within. 

Many people take part in this sport, and abide by the laws to preserve the fish populations and maintain the activity! After all, we need to protect the activities we love!

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Bethany Nyquist

Bethany is a writer, an Environmental Scientist and Dive Master, exploring the underwater world. Practising Underwater Photography, Bethany aims to raise awareness for and help protect marine life.

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