Dive smart, stay safe and keep only what you need this summer, writes Ian ‘Griz’ Miller.
With summer in full swing, for many of us our attention turns towards time at the beach with family and friends.

Seafood smorgasbord coming up!

For those of us with a love for sub-aquatic activities, now is the time to dust off the dive gear and get prepared for the underwater excitement that lies ahead.

Scuba divers should already have had their regulator and BCD serviced by a technician and made sure their dive cylinders are in test and full of air. There is nothing more frustrating (and it happens often) than getting to the coast only to be told, “Sorry, I can’t fill this bottle because it’s out of test, but it should be ready in five days!”

Once we’ve arrived at our destination and everything is in order, we can look towards all the available options to provide the sort of seafood bonanza we have been so looking forward to! However, it’s likely we are not the only ones with that thought in mind: at any given location there are probably dozens of others with the same idea, so the pressure on the resource is a lot higher than at any other time of the year.

Easily accessed crayfish and scallop spots can be cleaned out quickly by over-eager divers keen to max out their limits as soon as possible “while there’s still something left…”!

Taking just what is required for a good, fresh feed is a more responsible and respectful approach that gives over-stretched resources a chance of making it through the holiday period.

Down and dirty for crays

A well prepared, well equipped diver about to get ‘down and dirty’.

Hunting the elusive crayfish is normally number-one on the list for most divers. A good tip came from a very good commercial cray fisherman over at Little Barrier Island. He told me to dive inside his pot line, where it was too shallow for him to work. That’s where they would be, he said.

So, finding a likely looking piece of coast and going right up into the shallows can work well. We call it ‘getting down and dirty’ because you need to get right in under the kelp canopy and poke your nose into every nook and cranny, often in only three metres of water.

Free-diving (or snorkelling) is often just as effective in these sorts of places, particularly at low tide, even for those of us with now limited lung capacity! Another good thing about this sort of hunting is that you will often have a nice stretch of coast all to yourself, whereas outlying reefs tend to attract a lot more attention.

Tasty scallops

Second on the list would undoubtably be the tasty scallop. During busy times finding a feed of these popular bivalves provides more of a challenge because they tend to congregate in very specific areas, often less than a hectare in size.
This very definitely brings local knowledge into play, although it seldom takes long before everyone knows where the bed is! That means, of course, there is going to be a hell of a lot of boat action in a small area and boats without divers are probably going to drag dredges around as well, just to complicate matters!

A fact that is not widely known is that the harmless looking little scallop kills more Kiwi divers than any other sea creature. Why? Quite simply through greed!

Even old-school divers are guilty of falling into the trap of staying on the bottom for just one more scallop, only to find their air supply has all but gone. Ascending with a heavy bag of scallops takes quite a bit of effort, meaning any air that is left is quickly exhausted.

At this stage you’d think divers would drop the bag and weight belt and get the hell out of there…

Well no: “I didn’t come this far or wait this long not to take my catch back to camp!”

Too little air transforms into dizziness, followed by what is known as ‘a shallow water blackout’ whereupon everything and everyone ends up back on the bottom.

Another major concern with a ‘crash ascent’ is that there is no time to listen for any boats which might be in closer than they should be, so the risk of being hit by boat or a propeller is very real.

Just by following a few simple procedures none of the above scenarios needs to happen.

Scallop catch.

Firstly, fly a large, visible dive flag. You must let other water users know you are diving and that they should keep well clear.

If the depth of water you are in is, say, 15 metres, tie a 20-metre light rope to your catch bag. On the other end, attach a good size, highly visible buoy. Your boat can now easily stay in close contact with you rather than guessing where your bubble trail is and at the end of your dive it is very simple just to swim up your rope line, and once back on board the boat, to pull up your catch.

As you probably guessed, I am not a great fan of diving from an anchored boat. A drifting or mobile boat takes tide flow out of the equation, as well as being right there when divers surface. There are many cases of a diver arriving on the surface in a distressed condition, but by the time the anchor has been retrieved it is already too late.

So treat the humble scallop with a great deal of respect because there are many aspects to the gathering of these morsels where it can all go very wrong!

Fresh fish

The seafood banquet would not be complete without some fresh fish. Contrary to popular belief, spearfishing is the most selective form of fishing there is. You select the fish you want to eat, shoot it and it’s game over!

It sounds easy, but is it really? Once again, there are many aspects to spearfishing, and along with that, a lot of things that can tip up the unwary diver. Spearfishing is a huge subject and probably deserves a feature all of its own, so I will stick to the basics.

The purest form of spearfishing is free-diving. By free-diving we mean breath-hold diving with no artificial air source. The past 15 years has seen a massive surge in popularity of what has really become a sport in its own right.
There are many reasons for this upswing. Free-diving is a physically demanding activity so a relatively high level of fitness is desirable (you very seldom see an overweight free-diver). It is a great form of exercise, which appeals to many.

Compared to scuba diving, free-diving is relatively inexpensive to get into. For as little as a thousand dollars the budding snorkel-diver can equip him or herself with a reasonable set of kit to start out with.No qualifications or tickets are required to go out: simply buy the gear and go diving.

But a word of warning: a sound knowledge of what happens to your body in a breath-hold situation is essential because shallow water blackout, the same thing I alluded to with scallop diving, can occur. There are many books and articles written on this subject and a close study of some of these could be a life saver.

The truly great aspect of free-diving is the freedom it affords you. It is not essential to have a boat because anywhere there is a shoreline has the potential to provide a good feed of fresh fish. This could range from flounder in a couple of metres of estuary water to snapper, kingfish or john dory along a rocky shoreline.

There are also very tasty fish such as greenbone [butterfish] and blue moki which don’t readily take a hook and so are rarely caught by anglers, leaving them squarely in the spearo’s domain.

All this fishing can be accessed from the car park.

Be seen

The biggest safety tip I can give any spear-fisherman is to make sure you are visible.

A dark-suited diver almost flush with the water is extremely difficult to see and runs a very real risk of being run over by a passing boat. A large, bright float attached to your gun and towed along behind will certainly help alleviate this problem.

Also in the event that you mis-hit a kingfish and he wants to go down while you need to go up to breathe, you can let the gun go without losing it or your prize!

Spearfishing using scuba equipment is very much frowned upon by the free-diving fraternity. However, as a means of harvesting a feed of fish, I have no problem with it. I guess once again it’s the same old argument – take only what you need or don’t shoot it! The thrill of the chase is one thing, but no-one is a hero when fish is dumped.

Have a great, safe diving holiday this summer and bon appétit.