The Tobago Freedive Spearfishing Challenge has been in existence for five years and I’ve been attending this event for the last three of those years. With a rich history, the event has been won by Josh Lewis consecutively for the past 2 years. The Tobago Freedive Spearfishing Challenge came about when local legend Richard Parkinson and Philipp Almandoz (director/coordinator) realized that there was a need for the sport of spearfishing in Trinidad & Tobago. And thus, the event was born in 2009.
Spearfishing is the most subsistent and one of the least harmful ways to catch fish. At the tournament, among the various rules, one of them stands out and it is called “the size limit rule”. How this rule works is, you are allowed to only catch a certain size or certain weight of fish based on the species. Thus, encouraging the preservation and reproduction process to go on. You are also only allowed to shoot certain species of fish. For example the male and female parrotfish is one of the species you are not allowed to shoot, as the parrotfish plays a very important part within the eco-system of the coral reefs. You are also not allowed to kill the billfish, as it is a major part for the tourist fishing industry in Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean.
The term “freedive spearfishing” means no scuba gear. You basically use a pair of freediving fins and mask, a wetsuit (optional) and a few pounds of weights. Everything else you do is on your own strength. Some guys can freedive for up to a hundred and twenty feet (approx. 35 meters) and stay under water for up to four minutes.
The Tobago Freedive Spearfishing Challenge is usually held for two days between the months of May and June, as these are some of the better months for spearfishing in Trinidad & Tobago. Castara, which is on the northwest coast of Tobago, is the home of this prestigious event. The locals are some of the friendliest and helpful on Tobago and the infrastructure is fantastic. However, you are allowed to leave from anywhere in Tobago via boat and once you have been checked for following the necessary rules and guidelines that encourage safety and fair play.
This year, the Tobago Freedive Spearfishing Challenge was held on 7th and 8th June and the competitors faced challenging conditions, both on the ocean and on land, as the weather was foul and the ocean rough. However, that did not deter the 35 odd competitors from putting on a show. The biggest fish shot was a grouper at 29 pounds; shot by Michael Ross from Trinidad. I shot the second biggest fish, a mahi-mahi coming in at 28 pounds. The biggest fish recorded for the tournament is a 48 pound barracuda shot by Christian Reese three years ago and it’s obvious that this record will not be broken this year. I had a mixed tournament as I brought nothing to the scale on Saturday and it was only on Sunday, which was the last day with the least amount of hours for spearfishing that I got a fish. Everyone however enjoyed themselves, especially Josh Lewis of Trinidad, who won again for overall best performance.
This year, there was a special twist added to the event, which incorporated cash prizes for the most number or biggest lionfish caught. The lionfish is wreaking havoc throughout the Caribbean and is responsible for a great reduction in fish numbers on the reefs. The lionfish preys on fish that help protect corals from algae overgrowth, thus making the reef lifeless. Many lionfish came to the scale and the Ministry of Marine Affairs of Trinidad &Tobago wants to incorporate this as an annual part of the competition. Also, all fishes that are caught for the tournament are given to various charities. The Trinidad & Tobago spearfishing community is a very tight-knit group and encourages safety and preservation, both in and out of the water at all times. It is important for humans to realize the positive and negative effects we can have on our environment.
For further information on the Tobago Freedive Spearfishing Challenge visit facebook.com/spearfish.tobago/