Spearfishing in Mallorca – What you need to know #3: Fish and Sustainability

In this episode of “Spearfishing in Mallorca – What you need to know” we take a look at some of the fish that we hunt here and suggest how to deal with sustainability concerns.

In Mallorca we don’t get many pelagic fish. What we hunt is mostly various what you may call coastal reef fishes in layman’s terms. Compared to big spearfishing nations such as America, Australia or South Africa the target species you can expect to catch here are generally smaller and further in between. To make things even more difficult the fish here is very spooky. You often don’t get more than one chance with a fish and to trigger its curiosity requires both patience and a good breath-hold. A single careless move is likely to scare it away. If you are literally looking for an easy meal this is not the best place to be.

Because of these environmental conditions the learning curve may be a little higher here than in some other places. But with that said. What makes this such a fantastic place for spearfishing is that the sea doesn’t spoil you. Instead it teaches you to be your best. If you are lazy you will come home empty handed almost every time, but if you pay attention, see every dive as a chance to learn, study the environment and the behaviour of the fish, you have a very good chance of becoming a really good spearfisherman or spearfisherwoman by time.

So facing all these challenges, what are we trying to catch?

Here follows a list of some popular prey. The list has no ambition of being complete or provide the best selection, instead it’s trying to give a short introduction to some of the popular target species.  The names are given as Catalan / Spanish/ English / Latin. In my texts I tend to use the common Spanish names as that´s what I mostly use in daily speech.

Sard / Sargo / White Seabream / Diplodus sargus

Sargo
Diplodus sargus – Photo by PJ

Sargo is a common and fairly tasty fish that can be found in almost any freediving depth. You find them among the rocks, under ledges, by the Posedonia beds or even on sand patches, trying to steal a meal from a Mullet. You hunt them in holes and under ledges or by Aspetto, calling them in with a grouper call or other noise to trigger their curiosity. You will see plenty of small ones when you dive. The trick is to find the big ones.

IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
Minimum catch size: 23cm

Orada / Dorada / Gilt Head Seabream / Sparus aurata

Sparus aurata – Photo by David Blaikie

Dorada is one of the most common fish on the dining tables here. They are commonly found around the coast in similar environments as Sargo, though in much smaller numbers. They can grow up to 70cm long but are more commonly found in less than half that size. They are very spooky and tricky to catch, typically caught by Aspetto or Aguetto.

IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
Minimum catch size: 20cm

Seriola / Pez lemon / Greater Amberjack / Seriola dumerili

Seriola dumerili – photo by Roberto Pillon

Seriola is a pelagic species that are predominantly found in deep seaward reefs but occasionally enters coastal bays, especially the juveniles. Seriola is a priced game fish and a strong fighter. In Mallorca juveniles are more commonly found close to the shores, sometimes in schools, sometimes solitary. They are fast swimmers and you don’t have a lot of time to place your shot as they swim by. Max length in adults 190cm, common length 100cm in. Juveniles commonly found in 30 – 60cm size.

IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
Minimum Catch Size: None

Cap-Roig / Cabracho / Largescaled Scorpionfish / Scorpaena scrofa

Scorpaena Scrofa

Cabracho is a scorpionfish. Day time you found them sitting still on rocks, in burrows and caves, trusting that their camouflage won’t give them away. They do camouflage well so it takes a little training of the eye to spot them. Diving deeper than 20m increases your chances of a good catch. As they are scorpionfish and has venomous spines handling requires care. Ideally caught with a shorter, less powerful gun not to bend your spear shaft against the rocks. Cabracho may reach a max length of 50cm and has a common length of 30cm.

IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
Minimum Catch Size: 25 cm

Espeton / Barracuda / Sphyraena sphyraena & Sphyraena viridensis

Barracudas

In the Mediterranena there are two species of Barracuda that are difficult to distinguish from each other, Sphyraena viridensis – Yellowmouth barracuda and Sphyraena sphyraena – European Barracuda. Here I am going to treat them as one as we probably won’t be able to tell them apart anyway.

Barracudas are found in both coastal and offshore waters. We often see them hanging out in schools in the current around outcroppings and corners and along walls. You may see them as shallow as a few meters but typically below 10m depth. They can potentially grow up to 1.5m but has a common length of around 60cm. Barracuda meat is sometimes frown at but if the fish is properly bled and kept cool after catch it is delicious.

IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
Minimum Catch Size: None

Escorball / Corvallo / Brown Meagre / Sciaena umbra

Small group of Corvallo

The Corvallo is most commonly found around rocks and in caves and burrows. They may be solitary but are more typically seen in groups. They have extraordinary buoyancy control. They are often found hanging still in the water and can swim with minimal body movement. They are easily distinguished by their yellow dorsal and tail fins with black outlines and black ventral and anal fins with white outlines.

Corvallo with 3 Isopod parasites attached to its body

Worth to mention is that the Corvallo is often affected by a parasite called Nerocila bivittate, an Isopod that attaches itself to the skin of the host and taps into its bloodstream. The parasite is easily removed by pulling and does not affect the eating quality of the fish.

The Corvallo is under tough pressure from sport fishing. The fish is under IUCN status as near threatened a selective approach is advised. Don’t shoot if you don’t see them regularly in your area. You may encounter a whole group of them in a cave that could potentially be decimated one by one. Don’t do that. Catch one and move on.

IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened
Minimum Catch Size: 30 cm

Dèntol / Dentón / Common Dentex / Dentex dentex

Photo Credit – Hectonichus

Dentón is a legendary fish in Mediterranean spearfishing. The meet is by most people considered pretty good, but not fantastic. The reason they are so highly regarded as a catch is the challenge they give the spearfishermen. The fish is very spooky and suspicious and is easily scared away by a careless move or sound. It requires good stealth skills, long breath-hold and experience to catch them. The fact that you often need to dive pretty deep just to find them just adds to the lure. A good place to find them is slowly sloping rocky bottoms.

Max length 100cm, common length 50cm. As their IUCN status is listed as vulnerable a selective approach to hunting is recommended.

IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable
Minimum Catch Size: 35cm

Anfós / Mero / Dusky Grouper / Epinephelus marginatus

Epinephelus Marginatus – Photo Credit: Meri.Aqua

Mero is a grouper and highly priced for its meat quality. The fact that they potentially grow very big also adds to their popularity as a catch. Unfortunately unsustainable fishing practices has greatly reduced their numbers over the years. The increased skills of spearfishermen and their ability to shoot off the biggest specimen and thereby reduce that gene pool has also reduced the common sizes within populations. The Mero reaches a max length of 150cm while reaching maturity in the range of 37 – 54 cm. The minimum catch size here in the Balearics is 45cm, which means a minimum legal sized catch might not even have reached maturity yet. Not very sustainable. As the regulations are insufficient to protect the species effectively more responsibility lays on the shoulders of us as hunters. Even though it’s not illegal, I strongly advise against hunting this species unless you see them in good numbers in your area. And I suggest a self applied minimum catch size of 55cm to ensure that it has been able to reproduce already.

IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
Minimum Catch Size: 45cm (legal), 55cm (suggested)