Is Spearfishing Legal in South Africa?

Spearfishing could easily be considered a type of hallowed tradition in coastal areas around the world. There’s a type of primal joy to be found in hunting and catching your own meals and, considering the country’s pristine waters and diverse sea life, South Africa seems like a pretty perfect place to do it. But can you? Is Spearfishing Legal in South Africa and what kind of Regulations are there?

Spearfishing is allowed in South Africa so long as you first get a license. Licenses are easily obtained for a relatively small fee from your local post office or from the virtual post office.

The cost of a spearfishing license in South Africa is –

  • R57 for a monthly permit
  • R94 for a yearly permit

It should be noted however that certain permit conditions may change over time and thus the official website for the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) should always be consulted for up-to-date information. Assuming that you’ve already got your license, it’s time to find out what you can and cannot catch.

Is Spearfishing Legal in South Africa?
Is Spearfishing Legal in South Africa?

Which Fish can be Caught while Spearfishing and what are the Regulations?

Before you turn the South African coastlines into a wild west shooting gallery, it’s important to learn what’s not allowed. As with all forms of recreational fishing, there are many regulations with regard to the types of fish available for hunting, the amount that can be caught, the areas that can be fished, etc.

For a highly detailed list of the do’s and don’ts, you can consult the official government brochure, but the general rules are as follows –

  • Do not exceed the bag limit –  Each fish has an established ‘bag limit’ which dictates just how many of said fish can be caught per day. The limit varies depending on the fish in question so make sure to figure out what you’ll be catching and how many you can get before you go out. Additionally, when fishing with a recreational fishing license, there is a total bag limit of 10 regardless of which fish you catch.
  • Do not catch under the size limit – Each fish has a minimum size that it must reach before being eligible for capture. These sizes can also be found in the brochure.
  • Do not catch certain fish during the closed season – There are different times throughout the year during which certain fish can be caught, make sure the fish you are catching is ‘in season’.
  • Do not spearfish in estuaries – This one’s pretty straightforward.

Once you’ve read up on these rules you’ll also need to be aware of the prohibited species.

Is Spearfishing Legal in South Africa?
Is Spearfishing Legal in South Africa?

The following fish may not be hunted –

  • Basking Shark
  • Brindle Bass
  • Coelacanth
  • Great White Shark
  • Natal Wrasse
  • Pipefish and Seahorses
  • Potato Bass
  • Sawfishes
  • Seventy-Four
  • Whale Shark
  • Wreckfish

Do Scuba Divers need a License to Dive?

Yes, scuba diving in a Marine Protected Area (MPA) is permitted in South Africa only after a Scuba Diving permit has been obtained. These licenses can also be acquired from the post office or virtual post office.

Scuba Diving licenses are priced as follows –

  • R49 for a monthly permit
  • R92 for a yearly permit

If you’re on holiday and just wish to go scuba diving once off you’ll still need to purchase a license, although, most dive centres should have temporary permits readily available.

If you wish to go scuba diving more often, there are many regulations and procedures that must be followed before you can become certified as a professional diver. 

Is Spearfishing Legal in South Africa?
Is Spearfishing Legal in South Africa?

Can you go Spearfishing while Scuba Diving?

No, it is illegal to go spearfishing while scuba diving in South Africa. Additionally, spearfishing while using artificial breathing equipment is illegal with the exception of snorkels.

If you’ve spent any time thinking about spearfishing you’ve probably wondered why people don’t just wear air tanks and breathing equipment while they do it and of course, the temptation is there.

The general reasoning behind this decision is that breathing equipment would give an unfair advantage to spearfishers and could negatively impact the populations of certain fish.

Simply put, a spearfisher with the ability to stay underwater for long periods of time will also have the ability to hunt down the most sought-after fish, this obviously causes many people (especially other fishermen) to worry that the most valuable species will be caught almost exclusively by spearfishers with scuba diving equipment.

What kinds of Spearguns are allowed in South Africa?

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism classifies a speargun as “a device by which a spear is projected by mechanical or pneumatic means”. This definition encompasses both of the most common forms of the speargun, namely, rubber-band powered and pneumatic

It’s safe to say then that your speargun of choice will most likely be legal in South Africa so long as it falls into the aforementioned description. Avoid using any nuclear-powered spearguns built by mad scientists and you should be fine.

Can you take a Speargun on a Plane?

No, spearguns are not allowed within the cabin of a plane. Due to the fact that every country has different rules regarding travel, you’ll have to find out where you’re going before you really know what is and is not allowed, that said, in South Africa, spearguns are not allowed as part of your carry-on luggage when traveling by air. You will instead need to check the luggage in for transport in the hold of the plane.

Even when you have your license, there are still certain locations that are out of bounds for spearfishing, the areas are as follows –

  • Harbors
  • Estuaries
  • Tidal Rivers
  • Lagoons

These restrictions exist to protect both the spearfishes’ as well as others in the area. Additionally, certain areas may be home to prohibited species that need protection.

Is Spearfishing Legal in South Africa?
Is Spearfishing Legal in South Africa?

There are also specific restrictions that may apply to certain MPA’s, spearfishers should research any MPA’s that they may be hunting in and find out about any extra regulations that should be adhered to.

It’s unlikely that a single spearfisher could catch a particularly large number of fish all by themselves, but if you are caught catching prohibited or especially rare species in large numbers you could easily face quite steep fines.

Punishments for illegal fishing are normally determined by the type of fish caught and the amount caught. The most common penalty for illegal spearfishing would be a small fine, although this is assuming that the spearfisher is caught with ‘common fish’ or with numbers that slightly exceed the bag limit. 

Spearfishing in South Africa requires a license that can be obtained from your local post office or online via the virtual post office. This license is cheap and is usually available instantly.

Spearfishing is subject to the same restrictions as most other types of recreational fishers. This includes things like bag limits for each type of fish as well as an overall bag limit of 10. There are also many areas and species that are considered prohibited and are thus off-limits.

Both rubber-band and pneumatic spearguns are legal in South Africa.

Scuba diving is also legal in South Africa as long as the relevant license is obtained and the diver limits their activity to specified Marine Protection Areas (MPA). Scuba divers may not catch or harass fish while diving and it is similarly illegal to spearfish while using artificial breathing devices with the exception of a snorkel.

Scuba diving licenses are also available at post offices and online, additionally, diving centres often keep temporary diving permits with them so that vacationers looking for a once-off dive can streamline the licencing process.

Penalties for illegal spearfishing are often quite light although they are generated based on the species of the fish caught and the number caught over the limit or without authorisation. As such, spearfishers who are caught with ‘common fish’ in numbers that slightly exceed the bag limit can expect light fines of a few hundred rands. On the other hand, if you are caught with high-value fish or with a number of fish that far exceeds the bag limit you can expect a far harsher punishment.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although in many instances, our posts cite the constitution, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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1 Response

  1. February 20, 2023

    […] test that covers safety, conservation, and fish identification. The Spearfishing License is valid for a period of one year from the date of purchase and can be obtained from the same outlets as the Recreational Angling License. It’s important to note that […]

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