In a land of poverty, where the majority of people can’t swim, Jamaican spearfishermen are an elite breed of free spirits and bold adventurers who head underwater in order to make their living.
Since Jamaica is now so heavily overfished – there is little left to catch and many spearfishermen are effeciently removing the tiny, juvenile fish that are left. The government has recently banned spearfishing at night and many want it banned altogether.
But that’s not the only issue nowadays. There is a large population of spearfishermen who have started using a surface compressor to pump air down to them so they can stay down longer and dive deeper – where the bigger fish remain. Due to a lack of training and an economic necessity to perform dives like these, many spearfishermen suffer from “the bends”. A result of too much time at pressure, causing gases to dissolve into the blood stream and the bubble out into the body tissues, causing excruciating pain, paralysis and death. There is one hyperbaric on the chamber where victims can go for treatment – but the small team of scientists operating the facility are struggling to keep up with the demand on their limited budgets.
Fish sanctuaries have now been established around the island. Since there is no fishing allowed in the sanctuary, they provide a safe haven for the fish population to grow and spill over into areas where fishermen are allowed to take them. This may be the best chance of improving and protecting the livelihoods of jamaican spearfishermen.