When it comes to occupying fishing spots, “first one there” is the most common law of the land. But what happens when rod fishermen are asked to share with divers who wish to use the same location, just 100 feet down?
With the increased popularity of scuba diving and spearfishing, interaction between these two groups grows more common as anglers and divers flood the Keys. Known shipwrecks and underwater landmarks draw a mix of both crowds, frequently at the same time. While rod fishermen tend to arrive at the locations earlier and stay longer, divers commonly visit later, but are gone from the area after a 30- to 40-minute dive.
By and large, most would agree that communication should be the foundation of any interaction between divers and fishermen. “There has to be a common courtesy,” said FWC Capt. David Dipre. “People expect other people to be polite.”
Typically, this means leaving distance between other boats, or even leaving an area if it is heavily contested. “You should stay clear of them the same way they’re expected to stay clear of us,” said restaurateur and spearfisherman John Mirabella. “I try to be courteous, ease up and ask them how long they’ve been there, how long they’re going to be there, and if there is a way for me to dive.”
Mirabella said this approach usually works, and most rod fishermen are amenable to allowing short dives after a respectful approach. He also points to alternative approaches to dive sites, such as dropping far from a marker and working toward it, or diving less hotly contested rubble piles adjacent to main wrecks.
However, he said that several factors, such as accessibility and financial investment, play into both parties’ willingness to abandon a site. He points to sites such as Big Pine Key’s Adolphus Busch wreck that ease the interaction between divers and fishermen by designating mooring buoys for each group.
Unmarked or less accessible sites are another story. “Some spots are further out. There’s more pressure there, because you have to spend money just to get there. I’ve had to bail on those sites more than any others.”
Shouting matches between parties over perceived or actual slights are the exception rather than the norm, but most boaters with enough experience have witnessed at least a few. “I know that there are bullies out there, but I just try to avoid them,” said Mirabella.
Contributing to flaring tempers is a misunderstanding of regulations surrounding dive flags. Knowledgeable captains know to give a dive flag 100 yards of space, but the true rules regarding the flags are commonly misconstrued. “People think that if someone drops a dive flag, it means, ‘you can’t be over here, I’m diving,’” said Dipre. “That’s completely incorrect. I just have to be off plane and idling around.”
While Dipre noted that boats should exercise extreme caution and do their best to steer clear of dive flags, it does not mean the flags are an easy way for divers to pull up near another boat, drop their flag, and force the other boat to leave the area.
“At the end of the day, if you choose to dive where people are fishing, you’re taking that risk,” said Mirabella. Regardless of an individual’s willingness to accept that risk, however, he reiterated that mutual respect and communication are the key to sharing valuable sites. “I just want to be safe and have a good time. Common sense and cool heads should prevail.”