In the Know: Why is spearfishing legal in Florida, but prohibited in Collier County?

TIM ATEN
A spearfisherman glides over coral during a dive trip to the Dry Tortugas, nearly 70 miles west of Key West. Eric Strachan/Staff

Photo by ERIC STRACHAN // Buy this photo

A spearfisherman glides over coral during a dive trip to the Dry Tortugas, nearly 70 miles west of Key West. Eric Strachan/Staff

Q: Why is spearfishing in Florida prohibited only in Collier County and the Keys?

— D.A., Naples

Local spearfishing expert Justin Moraine of Fort Myers readies himself before taking a plunge into the Gulf of Mexico in 2011. Moraine competes in area spearfishing tournaments.

contributed

Local spearfishing expert Justin Moraine of Fort Myers readies himself before taking a plunge into the Gulf of Mexico in 2011. Moraine competes in area spearfishing tournaments.

Casey Crowther of Fort Myers returns to the surface with several fish after a 2011 dive to a depth of 143 feet. Crowther was spearfishing with Justin Moraine, who took the photo.

contributed

Casey Crowther of Fort Myers returns to the surface with several fish after a 2011 dive to a depth of 143 feet. Crowther was spearfishing with Justin Moraine, who took the photo.

A: You can thank or blame Collier County voters nearly 60 years ago for approving the spearfishing ban, which prohibits spearing fish in the county, as well as within state waters off Collier's shores — nine miles into the Gulf of Mexico.

The referendum was on the November 1956 ballot after the County Commission in 1955 approved "an act to prohibit spear fishing in all of the waters of Collier County," immediately effective upon voter approval at the next general election.

"It shall be unlawful to take or attempt to take fish in any and all waters of Collier County, Florida, by means of a spear, gig, or similar device. Any person violating the provisions of this act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction subject to the penalty provided by law," according to sections 1 and 2 of the law, chapter 30665.

Even though a Florida law, effective Oct. 1, 1973, eventually made it legal to spearfish in nearly all salt waters in the state, Collier County's stricter regulations remained on the books, and still are enforced today.

Cpl. Bob Marvin, with the Collier County Sheriff's Office Marine Bureau, said violators will receive a citation to appear in court. Fines vary depending on the type, size and number of fish speared.

State fines can be steep for the taking of undersized or prohibited fish. Divers wishing to avoid a fine for undersized catch are advised to keep in mind that objects underwater usually appear larger than actual size.

Spearfishermen are bound by the same restraints as other saltwater fishermen, including fish length, types of species and bag limits. Even in areas of Florida where spearfishing is permitted, many fish are still on a statewide no-take list.

Although it is against the law to take goliath grouper by any means anywhere off Florida, it also is illegal to spear many kinds of fish, including billfish, sharks, snook, redfish, permit, pompano, tarpon, bonefish, some rays and crabs, ornamental fish and many other species. Fishing regulations are constantly changing, so before making the trip, make sure you go to the FWC website to brush up on the latest.

Florida fishers also may not use spearing equipment or even have possession of it within 100 yards of public beaches, fishing piers or bridges where public fishing is allowed. Spearing and the possession of spears and spearguns also is not permitted in most state parks, and Everglades National Park, and one may not have possession of spearing equipment in freshwater recreational areas or man-made canals.

Spearfishing is defined as the taking of a saltwater fish by use of a spear, gig or lance, whether the angler is above the water or below, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. As with any recreational fishing, most spearfishers also need a valid Florida saltwater fishing license and must display a diver down flag, if diving or snorkeling.

Of course, Collier's stricter law was enacted before the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was created in 1999, and even predates both the state's former Marine Fisheries Commission and Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. The law addressed the abundant spearing of snook off Collier beaches, wrecks and fish-spawning mangroves in the 1950s, Cpl. Marvin said.

"That's why they put that in there, to stop that," he said.

Why hasn't the grandfathered regulation been repealed?

"We have not been requested to remove the rule," said Amanda Nalley, a spokeswoman for FWC.

Collier-specific laws enacted even earlier — in 1939 and 1949 — cracked down on nets and seining in the county, and a 1951 law made it illegal to spear fish in saltwater by using any artificial light. Click here for a link to the list of FWC's special acts of local application.

The validity regarding these special acts has caused some confusion over the years. In 1983, the Florida Legislature actually did repeal the Collier spearfishing laws, but the regulations were carried forward as administrative rules of the newly created Marine Fisheries Commission, and are still in effect under the FWC.

Citizens are understandably confused by local fishing and diving regulations, said Kevin Sweeney, owner of SCUBAdventures, which sells a lot of spearguns — prominently displayed on a wall of his Naples store. Sweeney notifies spearfishers about Collier's ban and provides them with a sheet of rules.

"We educate everybody," he said. "Most of the people that come in have a boat and go offshore for clearer water. We do educate people to keep them out of jail."

Because nearshore diving is limited anyway because of low visibility, Sweeney said he is puzzled by Collier's special exemption for spearfishing.

"Why they have it, I don't know," he said.

Capt. Mark Garcy, the owner of Naples Marina and Excursions off the Cocohatchee River in North Naples, said the local ban hurts everybody.

"What's the point? It hurts our economy. It hurts business. It's definitely not a beneficial thing," he said.

Garcy, one of the founders of the Lee & Collier Spearfishing Club, said good diving conditions exist for spearfishing off Wiggins Pass. He said he gets asked all the time about local spearfishing.

"I just had a call today from people who want to go tomorrow," he said Sunday. "Why should they not be able to fish in fishable waters?"

In addition to Collier County, spearfishing is prohibited within the boundaries of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park off Key Largo and the area of Monroe County known as the Upper Keys, the string of islands from the Miami-Dade County line south through Long Key. Spearfishing regulations in the Keys are even more convoluted to navigate, especially with additional federal restrictions.

___

Have a local question? Email it with your name and city of residence to intheknow@naplesnews.com.

"In the Know" is published Mondays and Wednesdays in the Naples Daily News. Find a complete archive of "In the Know" columns at naplesnews.com/intheknow.

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 44

staghorn writes:

why is anything prohibited in Collier County?
Active Registered Voters as of 04/29/2012 Republicans: 90,521
the party of NO said, ....NO
that's why

joeblow writes:

I spearfish anyway...

dolph66 writes:

in response to staghorn:

why is anything prohibited in Collier County?
Active Registered Voters as of 04/29/2012 Republicans: 90,521
the party of NO said, ....NO
that's why

I think the no vote was in 1956 ?? but what the hell does political party have to do with the jew fish (OH I am so sorry. I meant to say golliath grouper) that I speared off of the jettys in port royal back in the 60's. I think it was around 1956 that the people from new youuuk and boouuston started to change this beutiful town.
P.S. please don't give me the B.S. it was your money that gave me a good living here for the last 50 years. I would have done better without you

savethewhalz writes:

Spearfishing by divers is onerous. Imagine hunting cows in a fenced in pasture with a shotgun. About the same sport.

chriskh500 writes:

The law should be like in the Bahamas.,...you can only spearfish free diving. No tank spearfishing. The last time i dove in the keys there wasn't anything bigger than a yellowtail swimming around. Hell you can't even find conch anymore....they're killing it all!

chriskh500 writes:

Although the true destroyers of the reef are the fish trap boats and long line boats.....they wipe out everything!

itmattershere writes:

Because the Republican voter said so. They want us to do nothing, and are winning. They should be careful of what they wish for.

NaplesShmaples writes:

I dont usually dive, but when I do, I like to see my hand in front of my face.

Collier has no visability underwater. If you think it is clear on the beach, that means there has been and east wind for a couple days and the gulf is perfectly flat and thats 10 foot of visability compare that to a below average day in the keys or east coast and youre looking at 50 foot visability.

But anyways..if you want to spearfish even with the low viz, You should be allowed to! Why this out of date law is still here is a shock.

teazle writes:

That's nice, but was the reason for the curve in I-75 ever explained?

OP writes:

in response to itmattershere:

Because the Republican voter said so. They want us to do nothing, and are winning. They should be careful of what they wish for.

People who mindlessly blame everything on ________ are ruining discourse in this great land.

wonderful (Inactive) writes:

in response to teazle:

That's nice, but was the reason for the curve in I-75 ever explained?

To keep the giant shrimp from having a straight shot to Miami when they come ashore.

Spear them!

HIGHWATER writes:

Its only illegal if you're caught in the act.

swfl_ff writes:

in response to staghorn:

why is anything prohibited in Collier County?
Active Registered Voters as of 04/29/2012 Republicans: 90,521
the party of NO said, ....NO
that's why

If you understood local history you would know that Collier County was controlled by the Democratic party back when this issue was voted on. The Democrats out numbered Republicans here well into the 70's. Even in the 80's when the Republicans became the majority there were still a few Democrats holding office in both Collier and Lee Counties.

HAP writes:

Thank God. Joeblow and the other rednecks, should be in jail. Hope you get caught, idiot.

7S000 writes:

Collier County and the City of Naples were formed by commercial fishermen along with sportsmen who came to the area to fish and hunt.

When this law was passed in the 1950's, the sport of scuba diving was in it's infancy and not the target of this law. Spearing fish, esp. gamefish, from the surface was the problem being addressed, not spearfishing by a scuba diver.

If you start your sentences with "Back home, we..." - remember this is our home and you can just go back home if you don't like it here.

If you like it here, please don't try to change Naples and Collier Co into what you left behind, 'cause then you won't like it anymore and you will have screwed it up for all of us.

gl1800 writes:

in response to itmattershere:

Because the Republican voter said so. They want us to do nothing, and are winning. They should be careful of what they wish for.

Hey genius - In 1956 most of the voters in Collier County were Democrats.

Captian_Cataracts writes:

Maybe just maybe spilling blood into e waters near bathing areas would draw large predatory fish towards the swimmers & they'd get eaten.

Not exactly my idea of a tourist friendly sport.

Plus I've seen so many 'fisherman' throwing chum in the water from the beach looking to attract big predatory fish.

Plus there's always some drunken fool that runs the risk of firing his spear gun at another person. Local residents, native crackers are complete morons.

How s-----. How Floridian.

dmarko326 writes:

This issue should be a mute point. Collier waters out past 9 miles doesn't provide decent visibility anyway. But Monroe county is a different story.

MisterK writes:

I don't know why the law was passed in the '50's, but it makes sense today. If spearfishing were legal of off Naples beach, then there would be shark attacks off of Naples beach. There are too many sharks already there. They don't need to be stirred up by adding wounded, bleeding fish to the mix.

Raminar_Dixon writes:

in response to Captian_Cataracts:

Maybe just maybe spilling blood into e waters near bathing areas would draw large predatory fish towards the swimmers & they'd get eaten.

Not exactly my idea of a tourist friendly sport.

Plus I've seen so many 'fisherman' throwing chum in the water from the beach looking to attract big predatory fish.

Plus there's always some drunken fool that runs the risk of firing his spear gun at another person. Local residents, native crackers are complete morons.

How s-----. How Floridian.

Go back home Yankee. Crackers don't want you here. s----- Jack Wagon.

Raminar_Dixon writes:

Johnwaynegacy would want you to shoot it in the thigh.

wentfishn writes:

in response to 7S000:

Collier County and the City of Naples were formed by commercial fishermen along with sportsmen who came to the area to fish and hunt.

When this law was passed in the 1950's, the sport of scuba diving was in it's infancy and not the target of this law. Spearing fish, esp. gamefish, from the surface was the problem being addressed, not spearfishing by a scuba diver.

If you start your sentences with "Back home, we..." - remember this is our home and you can just go back home if you don't like it here.

If you like it here, please don't try to change Naples and Collier Co into what you left behind, 'cause then you won't like it anymore and you will have screwed it up for all of us.

Its way too late, its all screwed up already. Sorry.

NeezDutz writes:

I dont see why it's such a big deal.

wentfishn writes:

in response to Raminar_Dixon:

Go back home Yankee. Crackers don't want you here. s----- Jack Wagon.

Barron Collier was a Yankee, he should never have come here except for the money he made off the locals. Thats why your bitter , get over it.

Raminar_Dixon writes:

in response to wentfishn:

Barron Collier was a Yankee, he should never have come here except for the money he made off the locals. Thats why your bitter , get over it.

I don't care if yankees are here. They run our economy. I have no use for Capt. JackWagon standing in my backyard calling me names.

BillBrasky writes:

in response to savethewhalz:

Spearfishing by divers is onerous. Imagine hunting cows in a fenced in pasture with a shotgun. About the same sport.

Your analogy is way off. Cows are domesticated, fish are not. Fish are much smaller and significantly faster than cows, which as wild animals helps them stay alive. You also wont find any fences underwater so the fish are free to swim to the other side of the planet if they want.

Im all for saving the whales though.

babbas writes:

in response to chriskh500:

The law should be like in the Bahamas.,...you can only spearfish free diving. No tank spearfishing. The last time i dove in the keys there wasn't anything bigger than a yellowtail swimming around. Hell you can't even find conch anymore....they're killing it all!

I've had a timeshare in Islamorada for 30 years now. I've watched the keys go from marvelous to pathetic, as far as live coral and sealife. The reason why the beauty of the keys has faded is due to the Everglades. When the Army corp of engineers stopped the natural flow of water in the Everglades, the problem began. Now, we see the result of that failed excursion today, worse than ever.

Raminar_Dixon writes:

in response to babbas:

I've had a timeshare in Islamorada for 30 years now. I've watched the keys go from marvelous to pathetic, as far as live coral and sealife. The reason why the beauty of the keys has faded is due to the Everglades. When the Army corp of engineers stopped the natural flow of water in the Everglades, the problem began. Now, we see the result of that failed excursion today, worse than ever.

I've also heard they believe there is an underground river that carries the byproducts from the sugarcane fields and dumps into the Straits of Florida.

I also agree that fiasco of the ACE has ruined not only the Keys but the Everglades itself. Don't mess with Mother Nature.

Captian_Cataracts writes:

in response to Raminar_Dixon:

Go back home Yankee. Crackers don't want you here. s----- Jack Wagon.

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Raminar_Dixon writes:

Check your spelling before you call me uneducated.

cgbexec writes:

Spear fishing is a fun and rewarding sport. I do not really have an issue with the ban in Collier, as the visibility is so poor, I do not snorkel or scuba here anyway. I still spear fish in the Keys and Bahamas from time to time. My favorite is snorkeling with a Hawaiian Sling. That is much more challenging than with a gun and tethered spear.

P.S. – Those of you that have no idea what you are talking about, please refrain from commenting. The commenting sections are to ask valid questions or add information to a story.

wentfishn writes:

in response to cgbexec:

Spear fishing is a fun and rewarding sport. I do not really have an issue with the ban in Collier, as the visibility is so poor, I do not snorkel or scuba here anyway. I still spear fish in the Keys and Bahamas from time to time. My favorite is snorkeling with a Hawaiian Sling. That is much more challenging than with a gun and tethered spear.

P.S. – Those of you that have no idea what you are talking about, please refrain from commenting. The commenting sections are to ask valid questions or add information to a story.

Yes Dear we will be quiet. Too funny, guess he or she is a teacher?

No1Uno writes:

You can't spear a fish more than 10 feet away and getting that close to a legal fish is very challenging. There are no fences in these waters unless your taking about someones aquarium in Port Royal.

Visibility here is way better than 30-40 feet minimum most of the time at 50 or so feet or more. So if you can't see past 10 feet underwater, then you are probably not supposed to be operating a boat or a car, let alone a speargun.

Most of you don't have a clue what your even posting about.

While they're at it they need to lift the Jewfish ban, and allow one tag a year per person. They are so abundant and big now, they're eating all the legal fish.

anotherPOV writes:

in response to swfl_ff:

If you understood local history you would know that Collier County was controlled by the Democratic party back when this issue was voted on. The Democrats out numbered Republicans here well into the 70's. Even in the 80's when the Republicans became the majority there were still a few Democrats holding office in both Collier and Lee Counties.

I love it. Mission-accomplished must be the new Perry Mason. He tricked our Republican friens into confessing that Collier County was paradise before the Republicans took over, been downhill ever since.

wonderful (Inactive) writes:

in response to cgbexec:

Spear fishing is a fun and rewarding sport. I do not really have an issue with the ban in Collier, as the visibility is so poor, I do not snorkel or scuba here anyway. I still spear fish in the Keys and Bahamas from time to time. My favorite is snorkeling with a Hawaiian Sling. That is much more challenging than with a gun and tethered spear.

P.S. – Those of you that have no idea what you are talking about, please refrain from commenting. The commenting sections are to ask valid questions or add information to a story.

Yea, butt a lot of libbys still can't get it RIGHT!:

http://ultimatespearfishing.com/spear...

FORWARD!

NaplesShmaples writes:

in response to No1Uno:

You can't spear a fish more than 10 feet away and getting that close to a legal fish is very challenging. There are no fences in these waters unless your taking about someones aquarium in Port Royal.

Visibility here is way better than 30-40 feet minimum most of the time at 50 or so feet or more. So if you can't see past 10 feet underwater, then you are probably not supposed to be operating a boat or a car, let alone a speargun.

Most of you don't have a clue what your even posting about.

While they're at it they need to lift the Jewfish ban, and allow one tag a year per person. They are so abundant and big now, they're eating all the legal fish.

PLEASE show me where this mysterious (assumingly consistant) and "Way better than"
30-40 foot magical visability is IN Collier that is not 9+ miles. Id pay you big $ to take trip there DAILY. Please send me an email. Shootermcgavinn@gmail.com I would LOVE to start the local diving community that we have all been missing out on all these years due to very very limited visability!

PS. I could not contain my anticipation for your email No1Uno! I cannot wait to talk to you! This is a life changer and possibly a new tourism opportunity that all in the marine world in SWFLA has been missing for decades! It all depends on you to lead us to this amazing 50 foot visability that no one has found. YOU ARE OUR SAVIOR!!

jkalvin writes:

You pick your times, and you pick your weather opportunities. I'd rather dive here than in the Keys any day of the year. Much more to see here on the well known spots - unless you like looking at barren reefs - even though your vis may be better.

Been diving here since the 70's, and will continue to until I can't anymore.

Spearfishers take only legal fish, as opposed to hook and line fishing that may kill or maim dozens or hundreds of fish to get one keeper. If you love hunting, boating, and fishing, this is the best of all worlds, and is safer, environmentally speaking, than most other fishing methods.

No1Uno writes:

in response to jkalvin:

You pick your times, and you pick your weather opportunities. I'd rather dive here than in the Keys any day of the year. Much more to see here on the well known spots - unless you like looking at barren reefs - even though your vis may be better.

Been diving here since the 70's, and will continue to until I can't anymore.

Spearfishers take only legal fish, as opposed to hook and line fishing that may kill or maim dozens or hundreds of fish to get one keeper. If you love hunting, boating, and fishing, this is the best of all worlds, and is safer, environmentally speaking, than most other fishing methods.

My exact feelings as well, well said.

And NaplesSchnaples, I never mentioned less than 9+ miles specifically, I mentioned "in 50 foot of water talking in general." I am sorry you're so offended, that you can't find 50 feet of water and you would have to pay someone to find it for you. Support the local economy and talk to the guides at Tin City, but your not getting any of my spots. I believe they still sell Fish Finders that show the depth on the screen. Or go ahead and continue to overpay for a Keys trip and knock your self out.

Even with visibility at 10-20 feet on a bad day, I only need to see 5-10 feet to spear one of those nice legal fish SW Florida has to offer between the eyes.

Just because you can't find it, don't be a knucklehead by posting information that's not true.

No1Uno writes:

The fact of the matter is, Naples waters can't be judged by what you see swimming with your grandchildren at the Naples Pier. It deserves more credit than what people are posting.

Yes, the Keys have better visibility, everybody knows that. But better visibility doesn't mean its a better place for spearfishing if you already dive and spearfish in SW Florida.

NaplesShmaples writes:

To say there is 30-40 foot viz in the gulf nearshore is an outright lie! Who are you trying to fool??? You are lucky to get that if you travel 60 miles offshore! This story is about the GULF OF MEXICO. Ive spent hundreds of days on the water 1-10 miles and maybe MAYBE have seen 40 foot viz ONE time and I will never forget that day! Maybe youre footage calculations are wrong.

12 feet is the size of a big jetski, not whale shark, which do roam the open gulf!

NaplesShmaples writes:

in response to No1Uno:

My exact feelings as well, well said.

And NaplesSchnaples, I never mentioned less than 9+ miles specifically, I mentioned "in 50 foot of water talking in general." I am sorry you're so offended, that you can't find 50 feet of water and you would have to pay someone to find it for you. Support the local economy and talk to the guides at Tin City, but your not getting any of my spots. I believe they still sell Fish Finders that show the depth on the screen. Or go ahead and continue to overpay for a Keys trip and knock your self out.

Even with visibility at 10-20 feet on a bad day, I only need to see 5-10 feet to spear one of those nice legal fish SW Florida has to offer between the eyes.

Just because you can't find it, don't be a knucklehead by posting information that's not true.

10-20 feet on a bad day? A bad day in the gulf is 1-2!! Wow. Im not debating whether or not you can shoot a fish in 10-20 foot of viz. 10-20 would be an outstanding day within this 9 mile zone. What you have failed to mention is that 50 feet of water in the gulf is 40 or so miles offshore. Fuel costs getting there and boats eat gas...

Your argument is flawed. This story is about <9 miles off the coast of collier and your argument is based on the fact you must go FAR offshore to get to your hunting grounds and said visability.

I dont want your spots, I have my own & will chose the east coast over the gulf any day of the week.

elnuestros writes:

I remember Naples when half the dock lights on Naples Bay, it seemed, had a long-handled gig next to them and when those giant gig heads were offered for sale in a couple of stores I won’t bother to name.

Point is, the ban was designed to keep people in Royal Harbor, the Moorings, Port Royal and Aqualane Shores from gigging snook around their lights. There wasn’t enough of a diving community here at the time to matter (or to object).

I won’t name names, but I can even remember people who carried spears or even bang-sticks down to the finger piers along the beach and hunted snook there in broad daylight.

Simpler times, mon.

No1Uno writes:

Nowhere did I say within 10 miles knucklehead, but clearly you don't see anything clearly. There is really nothing 10 miles in except for freedivers, and yeah the water sucks there.

Most spearfishing is ideal at 75 feet or so. If you own a boat you can afford the gas still and know what can be found 25-35 miles out depending where your leaving from.

What qualifies as 100's of hours on the water doesn't qualify you under the water.

Smile writes:

in response to No1Uno:

You can't spear a fish more than 10 feet away and getting that close to a legal fish is very challenging. There are no fences in these waters unless your taking about someones aquarium in Port Royal.

Visibility here is way better than 30-40 feet minimum most of the time at 50 or so feet or more. So if you can't see past 10 feet underwater, then you are probably not supposed to be operating a boat or a car, let alone a speargun.

Most of you don't have a clue what your even posting about.

While they're at it they need to lift the Jewfish ban, and allow one tag a year per person. They are so abundant and big now, they're eating all the legal fish.

Thank you - Thank you - THANK YOU - Finally another spear fisherman chimes in and tells all the maroons..

Spears only go to the end of the shock cord. Maybe 15 feet max.

The fence analogy is obviously offered by someone who saw a picture of a guy with a spear and had no clue how it operates.

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