Spearfishing for Sustainability

Understanding where food comes from allows us to become more mindful consumers

Pauline Adalid (she/her)// Contributor
Talia Rouck // Illustrator

In Nanoose Bay, , Chris Samson (he/him) sets out for a dive.Wearing a thick neoprene wetsuit, the 31-year-old plunges into the water, settling himself on the rocks 15 meters below the surface. Holding his breath, he scans the underwater world in front of him, his speargun held close to his body. This is how Samson sustains himself — by hunting down his dinner.

Humans have shared intimate connections with food for millennia. Not only does it sustain us — it’s a means of expressing our culture and identities. It fosters bonding and community. Unfortunately, industrialization has caused consumers to distance themselves from their food — an issue spearfishers believe hunting solves.

“Spearfishing is knowing where your food comes from,” said Samson. He explained that the process of hunting makes him more conscious of his choices — and his food waste. “I started realizing how irresponsible I had been with the protein I was buying in the store… I didn’t respect it.”

Samson is one of three moderators for  BC Spearfishing and Freediving, a Facebook group with over 3000 members invested in sharing their adventures with spearfishing. Through the group, he met his frequent dive partner 35-year-old Natasha Parsons (she/her). “We’ve massively tried to cut down the amount of fish that we buy [since we started spearfishing],” said Parsons. 

The practice has caused both Samson and Parsons to become invested in marine conservation. “I never really appreciated the amount of different species and how they’re all connected together in the ecosystem,” said Parsons. “It just opened our eyes up to what’s actually happening [in the ocean].”

Industrialized food production has shifted our role from food producers to food consumers, reliant on factories to source the food we eat. This causes a disconnect for us — we are no longer present to harvest food from its source. Instead, we see ready to eat meals, plastic-wrapped fruits and vegetables, and preserved foods in cans and jars.

 According to FoodPrint, this system is built for maximizing production and reducing costs. It perpetuates the exploitation of nature’s carrying capacity by promoting mass produced and chemically-injected foods transported across continents, packaged and displayed in supermarkets before it reaches our plates.

“We need to understand our ecological footprint,” said Philip Brass, a hunter and member of the Peepeekisis Cree Nation.“Here in North America, I just know we’re very wasteful.”

As an advisor for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Brass is a strong advocate of Indigenous peoples rights and environmental protection. He believes that establishing connections with our food can help shift our mindsets to become more mindful consumers.“It is devastating to cultural diversity,” said Brass. “It forces people to become a homogenous monoculture of consumers because we lose our food culture.”

Samson admits spearfishing has changed the way he consumes food. “I don’t eat anything unless I harvested it myself, [especially] when it comes to protein.”

While it has its benefits, spearfishing can easily turn into an unsustainable venture if responsible hunting techniques are ignored. “If everyone goes to the same reef every single time they harvest and they start shooting, you can clear the reef pretty quickly,” said Samson. “The debate or the discussion about sustainability is not the question of how you fish. It’s a question of how much,” said Daniel Pauly. 

Pauly serves as the Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us project, and is a Killam Professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries. “If you fish more than the population can regenerate on an annual basis, then the population will decline and it’s not sustainable.”

Samson admits the practice isn’t perfect. “People travel quite a distance and they want to bring home as much fish as possible,” said Samson. “That’s how they justify shooting three lingcod.” He believes the level of sustainability spearfishing can produce is ultimately up to the participant.

Brass agrees. “It might not be the sustainable model and method for everybody [but] we have to respect spearfishing,” he said. “Industrial society has to find a way to grow food in a way that’s sustainable, that’s local, that’s regenerative — [Vancouver has] got to find a way to eat local.”

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