Mayaguana, Part 1: Moral Conundrums in Spearfishing

The ride to Mayaguana, our last stop in the Bahamas was bumpy, but fairly uneventful, though we did surf the drop off on our way into Abrahams Bay to try for some more fish. Unfortunately we only managed to pull in 5 or 6 small barracuda that we threw back and one small tuna, which we turned into sashimi within minutes. Our mediocre haul notwithstanding, the prevalence of fish  indicated to us that Mayaguana might turn out to be fertile fishing grounds.

As it turns out, we were correct. the coral heads at Mayaguana were positively teeming with all kinds of life. We couldn’t find anything edible at the first couple coral heads we checked, but as always, watching the interplay between the various reef fishes and watching the colors flash before our eyes was very much its own reward. It wasn’t long before we found success, however, and speared two lobster within a couple hundred yards of our boat. This accomplishment was more than enough to get us back into the water that afternoon, when we managed to spear two more lobster and a trigger fish, which caused me an unexpected pang of conscience.

While there is always a thrill of success associated with spearfishing, this exuberance was tempered as I slid the trigger fish into our bucket. Fishing with a rod and reel from the surface allows the angler to distance himself somewhat from his quarry and remain emotionally detached as he plucks a fish from their world to ours. We can debate the relative morality of the two until we’re blue in the face, but there is no question that spearfishing, in contrast, bears much more in common in hunting and all of the moral quandaries that it elicits. You enter a foreign world, watch the various species interact with one another and their environment, choose a target, and fire a spear into its gills(if you do it right). It is a brutal, antagonistic process, and shooting the trigger fish forced me to question it in a way that I hadn’t previously.

To be fair, the reason for my concern may have stemmed from the fact that the trigger fish was simply “cuter” than our prey normally is. Lion fish provide a handy excuse for their execution, as you are “saving the reef”, while lobsters are decidedly bug-like in appearance, and we are so inured to the idea of live lobsters being brought home and boiled alive that spearing them feels almost humane by comparison. And no one would ever call a grouper “cute”. This trigger fish, however, was a beautiful array of colors that faded quickly after death, and a face that, contrary to a grouper’s characteristic scowl, conveys instead a wide-eyed innocence. I regretted releasing tthe spear almost as soon as it left my hand, but once you fire a spear there’s no taking it back, and so there was little to be done but filet the admittedly substantial trigger fish as soon as we got back to the boat and put the meat on ice. I don’t go in much for prayer or overt spirituality, but I did my best to say a few words of gratitude and apology for the life that I took so unthinkingly.

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