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Dock of Death: The Life Cycle of Spearfishermen

Dock of Death: The Life Cycle of Spearfishermen

The term ‘Dock of Death’ is getting thrown around more and more within the spearfishing community. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it is the practice of laying out everyone's catch for the day in a way that prominently displays everyones fish, usually close to everyone's legal limit. While it is impressive to display a group's ability to gather their limit of fish, it has some issues when it comes to the public relations for the spearfishing community. You may want to simply consider showing off your biggest fish, while keeping the rest of the fish on ice. 


Your Legal Right, Until it Isn’t

We would like to think that the governing authorities in charge of fishing regulations are basing regulations purely on sound scientific data. Unfortunately, there is a large portion that is based at least partially on public input. Therefore, a negative public perception of spearfishing can directly impact things like our bag limits or method of take regulations. When the public sees divers with what may be considered an excessive number of fish, there can and will be some who express the idea that the limit should be reduced. 

In the state of Florida, 2018 saw the recreational limit of sheepshead reduced from 15 fish to 8 fish. At the public forum on the issue, many people expressed distaste for seeing people holding up what they considered to be too many fish. The limit was determined by public opinion rather than scientific data which pointed to 15 fish being sustainable. Be aware that this can happen anywhere, with any species of fish or any limit.


The Life Cycle of a Spearo

Divers also seem to have a bit of a life cycle as they continue to spearfish. They go through phases that can be defined to some degree. Obviously every diver is different, and may bounce around to different parts of this lifecycle. That being said, just about every diver has the same starting point. Check out a detailed breakdown on Noob Spearo Episode: 150 - Death Pile Phenomena, Dock of Death Pics. 


Phase One: The New Diver/ Beginner

No matter how great a diver you may have become, you started just like everyone else. Most new divers are still struggling to understand the basics of freediving when they try to throw in the infinite skills that spearfishing also requires. The challenges of understanding the loading and safe use of a speargun is no small task to the new diver. Take that and compound the use of a reel or floatline and it is a struggle. Go a step further and add fish identification, understanding of size, and method of take regulations. Then, on top of all of this, you have to try and stalk and hunt a creature that is in its natural habitat. Needless to say, a new diver is working on developing all these skills, and as such is usually not the most skilled spearo straight out of the gate.


Phase Two: Shoot the Limit of Fish

After you get past the early stages of spearfishing, it is common for people to progress to trying to catch their entire limit. This is easier said than done. In this phase, divers refine the skills they were working on in phase one. As the diver progresses, this is where the 'dock of death' starts to come into play. They get better at stalking and hunting, and start to pick up on fish behavior. The diver starts to figure out more about what the sport is about, but they are still focused on filling the cooler, dock, and freezer. 


Phase Three: Shoot the Biggest Fish

In phase three, the goal tends to be on harvesting the largest fish you can as opposed to the most fish. Larger fish are usually more weary of divers. It takes more skill to stalk and land these larger fish. This is where a diver may start to show signs of maturing while spearing. In order to have a chance at the really big fish, you end up passing up opportunities on tons of good and smaller fish. In short, the diver is becoming more selective. Once a diver is good at shooting their limit of big fish, the dock of death pictures start to really get the attention of other people in the diving and fishing community.


Phase Four: Selective Harvesting and Competition

This phase is optional. Many divers start to feel competitive once they start shooing big fish and they want to demonstrate that they are the best. The easiest way to do that is through competitions. Spearfishing tournaments happen all over the world and are a great way to enjoy the camaraderie of the sport. Competitions are not a driving force for every great spearo, because some of the best are driven purely by the hunt. 


Phase Five: Respecting the Resource/ The Chef Stage

This can frequently be the final stage of many spearfishing journeys. At this point, divers become very selective. They pick the fish they specifically want. This usually is driven by taste. The focus becomes on the edibility of the fish, and divers tend to focus on taking ethical shots on specific species they want. At this point the diver tends to forget about big fish if they're from species that don't taste as good. If you get a group of these divers in a room you are more likely to hear people trading cooking recipes rather than how crazy their dive trip was. At this point, diving is really all about respecting the resource. 


Phase Six: The Statesman 

Not all divers get to this phase, and that is okay. Not every diver that gets to this phase does it well. The Statesman phase is always driven from good intentions, but if done wrong can come off as rude or combative. The diver is often trying to guide people further along in the phases, or trying to get them to skip to the end. There are good ways to do this and rude ways to do this. Having a simple and productive conversation with someone seems to be the best way. If you feel the need to get involved in the diving practices of others, try and be responsible in helping them progress past the need to display a dock of death. 
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