The sea has been good to Jayce Robinson, a native of West Cornwall and one of British surfing’s leading lights for over a decade: it’s been his playground, his workplace, his refuge, and a source of sustenance. One of his priorities is being good to the sea in return.
“I believe that if you’re going to eat fish,” he says, “then spearfishing for one or two every now and then is one of the best ways to do it.” Watch the latest episode of End of the Land, presented by Salty Crew, in the video link below. You can also read our interview with Jayce about the intricacies of spearfishing and the ethics of eating fish.
What does it take to a spear a fish, from a technical point of view? First of all finding one: what signs tell you you’re looking in the right place? How long would you expect to have to wait?
I suppose it’s a bit like hunting for waves, you need to know what spots work best, taking into account the tide, the reef or seabed, the swell and even the wind sometimes. You can do all your homework though and again just like waves get completely let down on a day you think all the elements are aligned. If you get all the things above right, you still need to know more. Where exactly to hang and wait in camouflage or chase down. You need to know how to identify the good eating fish and how they move, amongst many other things that turn you into a spear master.
When did you first start?
My brother Dale took me spearfishing when I was around 15. He was the master, but never had the right gear, always battling against himself with no weight belt, knife or even a fish stringer to hold his catch.
How long do you go out for at a time, and how often?
A normal session would be around 2 hours. I go in the summer months if the conditions are right and the surf’s flat.
Talk us through the shot in the film.
The morning we decided to shoot this action was a bit of a dreamboat, bluebird-sky kind of morning. The sea was calm, and the clarity was as good as it gets in this location. I knew as soon as I put my head in the water that we were on. My first dive down I soon realised that there was an abundance of sea bass. So I told Greg [Dennis, water filmer] to head down with me and hang back, still as can be, and wait. It didn’t take long for the shoal of bass 100 strong to charge at us in fierce curiosity. I waited for a good aim at one of the larger members and took the shot. It all felt a little bit too easy that day, sometimes it’s like that and other days nothing comes together at all.
Do you think most of us have become too far removed from the processes that provide us with food?
I do think that a lot of people haven’t had the chance to hunt and kill their food. If everyone had the chance or had to kill to eat, I think it would definitely impact the way we consumed meat and how regularly we did it. And as a knock-on effect, agriculture would be changed most likely for the good.
Does killing a fish have an emotional impact on you?
For sure, I find it really hard sometimes and think about the impact of taking one fish away from its family for my consumption. At the same time the food chain is real, and if it were in balance there wouldn’t be any problems. The problems lie in mass-scale fishing, trawlers that rip anything and everything up from the depths to the shallows. I believe that if you’re going to eat fish then spearfishing for one or two every now and then is one of the best ways to do it. I also understand that not everyone can do this or lives by the sea, so it just isn’t possible.
People also talk about the satisfaction or thrill of being close to nature – the idea that it resonates with something in our hunter-gatherer past. Do you get some of that too, or is that hippy mumbo-jumbo? Do you sometimes feel like sacking it off and grabbing something from the frozen aisle instead?
It’s definitely not hippy mumbo-jumbo! The hunter-gatherer feel is definitely a thing. It feels so good to catch a few fish and take some to my parents and bring a couple home for my partner Hannah and I to eat. I like turning a spear session into a mission and going somewhere new, the more challenging it is the better the feeling – again, just like going on a search for waves and scoring perfection. We as humans need to remember that if we have everything in the palm of our hands then we will soon all become depressed and mentally unwell. Fighting for something is in our nature and always will be.
The analogies with surfing are hard to avoid – not just being in the sea but also the waiting, reading nature’s signs, the local knowledge, the importance of being in the right place at the right time, knowing when to pull the trigger (literally in this case), etc. Do you think of them as mutually beneficial activities?
Most definitely, there are just so many similarities and they can only be of benefit to each other, from breath-holds for bigger wave surfing to leg strength for general surfing from all the kicking. It even helps mental strength, learning how to be patient and taking you away from the stresses of day-to-day life.
In terms of which fish you go for and how, are there any guidelines or principles (or even laws) you try to stick to?
It changes a fair bit, but yes, you should check the guidelines before heading out and being a hunter gatherer. And also, beyond the guidelines, just checking out which fish are just not good eating and therefore not worth shooting.
To what extent are you and Hannah self-sufficient now? We imagine you living a serene existence beyond the reach of capitalist forces, using surplus turnips to barter for occasional luxuries…
Hannah and I are far from self-sufficient, but we are definitely on our first steps. We have only in the last 2 years decided that this is really what we want and have a lot to learn about growing, storing and all that comes with being self-sufficient. I honestly don’t ever think we will be 100% self-sufficient. Growing things like wheat and rice and milking cows is quite far away from our agenda right now. We are mere mortals, trying to do our bit to live happily, healthily and invite others to join us in our fortunate situation that may not have the chance to.