It was two days before my 25th birthday. Having finished work quite early, I found myself sitting around with nothing to do. When my friend Pete Dreyer gave me a call to say that the sea looked good and we should go for a dive, I needed no convincing and we organised to launch around mid-day.
We started our diving in 12m of water with me right above Pete facing the other direction. I was using my new Rob Allen carbon gun and was amped to see what it could do. I thought I was about to get my chance a couple of dives in when I turned my head and spotted a nice Cracker cruising in. I was certain that I was going get a shot off, but no sooner had I started to move my gun in its direction when a loud ‘thud’ sounded. Pete had shot a fish behind me and spooked the Cracker. I was slightly irritated to discover that the fish he had shot was not a Cracker, but a Parrot.
Dive after dive I saw nothing worth shooting, and thought my luck had run out. We tried a couple other spots without seeing much. Out of boredom, I decided to start filming my dives with my new underwater video camera. The camera entertained me on the bottom and allowed me to start extending my dive times. Meanwhile, Pete had a run in with a large Cracker but failed to get off a shot. Luckily he managed to pick off a slightly smaller one from the same shoal on his next dive. By this time, he started to feel the cold and was already shivering, effectively reducing his dive time and he called it a day.
My tally for the day so far was just one Parrot. Because it was my first day with my new carbon gun, I had not fine-tuned the rubber length and had noticed when shooting the Parrot that the spear had not penetrated right through the fish. Although I knew I was slightly underpowered, I could not bring myself to pack the gun away because it was such a pleasure to dive with. Almost weightless at the bottom, it really gave my wrist a break for a change. But, I still only had one fish and wanted at least one, or preferably two more to take home. I come from a large family and I knew they would appreciate some fresh fish.
Pete agreed to take me to one of our Parrot ‘hotspots’ for two quick dives in 16-17m of water. The water was a bit cleaner there, about 4-6m on the surface (we’d been diving in 3-5m closer to shore). I sat on the boat for a while contemplating filming the dive. I have been trying to make an amateur spearo film and thought a Parrot would make for some good footage. I asked Pete what he thought and he said, “Ag, just get them and let’s leave.”
So I jumped in and although I only needed a small breathe up for a quick up and down dive, for some reason I sat on the surface breathing up for over 2 minutes before starting my descent. Missing the mark slightly, I landed on some flattish reef nearby. Settling into a crack I faced outwards… No parrots!?
When getting ready to ascend, I have made it my routine to have a good look around me before leaving the perceived safety of a crack in the reef. Not to scan for fish, but because of the amount of shark activity we have had to deal with lately. I didn’t want any surprises on my swim up!
Looking right first, I noticed a very large shape swimming in an arc around my back. I quickly turned to my left side hoping to catch the ‘shape’ at a more comfortable neck angle. We’d had a bit of a bad run with Great White We also discovered that I had speared it 7 days out of season, making the whole experience illegal. This really put a damper on my excitement.
I would have preferred to keep the day’s happenings hush-hush, as spearfishing as a sport already has a bad reputation and is constantly under scrutiny. However, my family was amazed at the size of the fish and my brother unwittingly sent a picture to a friend of his, who forwarded it to another and so on until pretty soon my illegal catch was common knowledge around East London.
Some time later, I discovered that emails were circling around painting me in a bad light and generally attacking my character. I responded to some of these emails, trying to defend myself… but my arguments fell on deaf ears.
When I shot the Copper Steenbras, I was completely unaware of the species closed season. I now know that Coppers are protected for the months of October and November, as this is their breeding season. Although I consider myself an informed diver (I am aware of size limits and seasons of all the fish that I target), Copper Steenbras have never been on my target list because they are found at depths to which I cannot dive, i.e. 40 to 100m.
I am 100% supportive of all those that go out of their way to defend the ocean, and realise that legal restrictions are in place in order to ensure that ocean life, as well as sports such as spearing and fishing, are all protected.
It is worthwhile to note that although there was never proof of the actual date on which the fish was shot, I openly admitted my guilt when I was contacted by a policeman to discuss the matter. I am now clear with the law, having paid a R4000 fine… plus another R3000 to have a mould of the fish made. All in all… a rather expensive fish! I also attended a disciplinary hearing at my local ski boat club, where I fought not to be expelled from the club. I produced proof of the fine, which I had paid, and also showed the members video footage of smaller Coppers I had taken after the incident. They were all in season at the time and over the size limit, but I did not shoot them because they were only about 6kg. I have way too much respect for this fish now, and shooting one of only 6kg seems wrong.
I often only shoot fish with my camera and not my gun… I am not the bloodthirsty poacher that some people have made me out to be, and apologise if my actions have offended anyone.
Ultimate Spearfishing Magazine does not condone or promote any illegal activity, and/or any activities that are detrimental to the sport of spearfishing or the ocean environment. We decided to publish this story because the fish was shot innocently and without any knowledge of legal restrictions. We hope that by publishing this article, divers will be encouraged to become more informed as to rules and regulations that protect the magnificent species inhabiting our oceans (even those rules applying to fish they would not normally target).