Shifting Baselines

Daniel Pauly just pointed me toward a story that will compete with Deer Meat Sushi as the Shifting Baselines story of the year. The Sunday Times ran A Trimmer Gun to Spear Smaller Fry about how there is finally a speargun sold in the U.S. to hunt smaller fish. Americans are known for hunting big fish (because we had some) with bulky spearguns. But lately there seems to be a growing vogue among American speardivers for smaller fish like croakers and snappers (decide for yourself whether it’s because the fish are getting smaller).

The new line of spearguns–called the Euro Series— is fashioned after those used in the Mediterranean (that sea of abundance). The spearguns are being sold in Miami and Hawaii. Daniel said he thought smaller flippers might have been a better idea than a sleeker speargun, that way some of the deeper fish would have a better chance of recovering. And then he pointed out that there is no recognition of the shifting baseline in the article, which only solidifies the sleeker speargun in what he describes as our “collective amnesia”.


  1. #1 Hans
    August 2, 2007

    I was an avid spear fisherman in Australia and it was a shock to me to find legal spearfishing on SCUBA, here in the US. Making SCUBA spearfishing illegal is to me more important, than the size of the speargun.
    ps. I’m out of touch these days, maybe it is already illegal.

  2. #2 Jennifer Jacquet
    August 8, 2007

    Spearfishing on SCUBA is still legal in the U.S. (finally confirmed this with friends who do it). Can you give us details on when and maybe even based on what science (if any) why Australia banned it? Thanks for this information, Hans!

  3. #3 David
    January 12, 2008

    Unfortunately, the New York Times article is a little misleading in the title and may not represent a ‘smoking gun’ for shifting baselines in the US. Euro style and other small spearguns have been used in the US for quite a while now. However, Riffe, the company mentioned in the article did not make them. As a spearfisher in Florida, a lot of us had a euro or smaller style gun in our quiver for different occasions. As mentioned, the some of the larger Riffe guns can be bulky in the water and are not ideal for catching smaller maneuverable reef fish for dinner (not everyone is out to hunt large trophy fish). Riffe, which has been made popular by their amazing blue water guns (large powerful guns used to shoot pelagic fish), is basically diversifying their product to capture another part of the spearfishing market. In fact it mentions that over half of their new style guns are going to Europe. In the US, where Riffe already has a big name for itself among spearfishers, people in the market for a more slender gun may choose their model over one of there competitors such as Omer. However, it doesn’t necessarily show that the fish are getting smaller as previously smaller spearguns were bought through from other companies making spearguns.

    As an aside, the speargun in the picture is a large gun and although not used to shoot tuna, is by no means for small fry.

    The ability to use scuba to spearfish can be a controversial issue among spearfishermen (note that for spearfishing world records, mentioned in another post, only freediving (no scuba) is accepted). I would be very interested to learn more about when and how no scuba for spearfishing came into place in Australia. In the US, which already has a large base of scuba spearfishers, I would imagine a change in policy to be very difficult.

  4. #4 Adult Forum
    January 16, 2008

    Great comment guidelines. I think you’re on the right track here. Some of those comments should go somewhere else.

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