A war has been brewing for some time in the world of marine sports. So far it has involved nothing more serious than border incidents and guerrilla raids. But as more and more people purchase and employ equipment for skin diving, more and more conventional anglers are becoming frustrated and infuriated.
The reason is a simple and familiar one to commercial fishermen; it has led (in their case) to international scraps and even to wars. Skin divers and goggle fishermen seek catches in person, under water. They are naturally attracted to those places where fish of the largest size occur in the greatest numbers. Just as naturally, such regions—bays, reefs, inlets, submerged wrecks and the like—have long since been staked out by hook-and-line anglers, who are likewise interested in catching something. The question is, who gets the fish?
Obviously it is disturbing to conventional salt-water anglers to rise early in the morning, travel for some hours by oar or motor to a favorite spot for grouper, amberjack, striped bass or whatever, and find the region infested with deep-swimming college boys—even, perhaps, with a gorgeous blonde or two, flippering along fathoms down with canisters of compressed air fastened to pretty shoulders and long sharp spears clenched in tapered mitts.
The presence of people, male or female, amidst the intended quarry is distressful. Fish sought in their own element are not in a mood to take baits lowered through a layer of pursuing swimmers.
FOULING UP THE FISHING
Skin diving, which is increasingly popular in the younger set, is thought by them to be a brand-new discovery. Some of us old-timers, however, chased big fish to their lairs beneath the sea with no more than home-made weapons and a pair of tight-fitting goggles before the mechanized divers of this era were even born. We discovered, way back then, that a single dive can foul up plain fishing for an hour—or even for the rest of the day. Moreover, we were not able to make long dives with the aid of compressed air; our excursions were limited by the time we could hold a breath.
The growing and hot-tempered question then concerns rights. Have classical fishermen any right to drive off or forbid skin divers to invade their grounds? Are gogglemen and goggle-women entitled to move in on a contentedly anchored still-fisherman, or one engaged in localized trolling, and scare his quarry to cover where the underwater swimmer, unlike the angler, may still pry it out?
For the past two seasons, skin diving has posed other and even more anxious questions in certain fish-rich regions. The officials on the island of Bimini, in the British West Indies, have begun to ponder the need of new laws. The principal revenues of that island, like the revenues of many similar places, derive from sports fishing—conventional, not submarine. Skin divers, however numerous, would never make up in island profits the sums spent by seekers of tuna, marlin, makos and reef species. Because the divers vex and frustrate big-paying customers, Bimini has a commercial problem.
It has a still more anxious quandary. Should ambitious explorers of the deeps be protected from themselves"! In Bimini, skin divers have been hurt—seriously—after spearing small but vengeful sharks and rays. Many Bahamian guides assert that the submarine stalkers who invade the Gulf Stream are taking risks they do not appreciate. No one seems to know yet, for example, how a mako shark would react to a man dressed in shorts and a cylinder of air. Bimini skin divers have not yet come face to face with a big blue marlin—but one of them, someday, surely will. There is evidence that marlin gore one another; how will they feel about Joe Frogman?
Deep-sea divers, the skin wizards reply, have been invading such waters for ages without harm. That is not quite true: some men working in diving suits have been hurt by fish. And none of the industrial divers go under the sea to attack fish. Fish are aware of their adversary when attacked—and inclined to take a dim, even hostile, view of same. So there is a faction in Bimini that opposes skin diving on the ground that it represents a foolhardy risk.
It is this writer's opinion—after long and fairly considerable experience in both fields—that some areas of the sea are too dangerous for skin divers and should be taboo. It is also his opinion that a rule of "first come, first served" should apply to all fishing grounds—that no fish hunter or seeker ought to molest, drive away or interfere with another who is established in a given sport or area.
REGULATIONS ARE NEEDED
Skin diving in its newest form is a growing and exhilarating sport; it is also proving a boon to several sciences—including, oddly enough, archaeology. Its exponents may eventually abandon the spear for the camera—thus doubling their hobby and perhaps quadrupling its challenge.
But there is going to be a great deal of wrangling over these matters in the months and years ahead. And quite a few people, I fear, are going to get mauled, poisoned and rather horridly slain before a great new sport arrives at its own rational regulations.