Understanding spearfishing in a coral reef fishery: Fishers' opportunities, constraints, and decision-making

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Publication Date


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PLoS One


Environmental Studies Program


Social and ecological systems come together during the act of fishing. However, we often lack a deep understanding of the fishing process, despite its importance for understanding and managing fisheries. A quantitative, mechanistic understanding of the opportunities fishers encounter, the constraints they face, and how they make decisions within the context of opportunities and constraints will enhance the design of fisheries management strategies to meet linked ecological and social objectives and will improve scientific capacity to predict impacts of different strategies. We examined the case of spearfishing in a Caribbean coral reef fishery. We mounted cameras on fishers' spearguns to observe the fish they encountered, what limited their ability to catch fish, and how they made decisions about which fish to target. We observed spearfishers who dove with and without the assistance of compressed air, and compared the fishing process of each method using content analysis of videos and decision models of fishers' targeting selections. Compressor divers encountered more fish, took less time to catch each fish, and had a higher rate of successful pursuits. We also analyzed differences among taxa in this multispecies fishery, because some taxa are known to be ecologically or economically more valuable than others. Parrotfish are ecologically indispensable for healthy coral reefs, and they were encountered and captured more frequently than any other taxon. Fishers made decisions about which fish to target based on a fish's market value, proximity to the fisher, and taxon. The information uncovered on fishers' opportunities, constraints, and decision making has implications for managing this fishery and others. Moreover, it demonstrates the value of pursuing an improved understanding of the fishing process from the perspective of the fishers.



Original Citation

Pavlowich T, Kapuscinski AR. Understanding spearfishing in a coral reef fishery: Fishers' opportunities, constraints, and decision-making. PLoS One. 2017;12(7):e0181617. Published 2017 Jul 27. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0181617