Commercial fishermen who need to head below the surface of the water for their catch have specific needs for their unique form of fishing.
In recent years, gear has been upgraded to be more efficient, durable enough to tackle tough conditions, and to allow divers to breathe easier underwater. Innovative solutions that incorporate modern technology and premium materials have helped to confront these necessary challenges.
Some of the newest products and advances in scuba include a regulator that is resistant to freezing and can work in silty and murky waters, a mask-mounted and hands-free computer and a bubble-free rebreather system that provides five hours of dive time.
In the spearfishing world, some professionals use scuba gear, but many are freediving. Spearfishing gear has been trending toward being more travel-friendly, efficient and easier to manage. Speargun developers have created guns that can break down to fit in a duffel bag and “roller” style guns that keep the power, but reduce the recoil.
Fishermen’s News reached out to several manufacturers and experts in both types of diving gear to find out the latest products on the market, what the big sellers are and recent trends.
In Pacific Ocean commercial dive fisheries, most diving is either done by hookah off the boat or with traditional full scuba gear. In the colder regions where commercial fishermen might be harvesting bay clams, geoduck clams, sea urchins or sea cucumbers, the equipment they use needs to cold up in rough waters.
San Diego County-based SCUBAPRO has several products that divers fishing commercially, particularly in cold water environments, will want to check out.
In January 2022, SCUBAPRO announced that it was growing the MK19 EVO regulator line by pairing it with the new G260 second stages. The expanded line of combines “modern, lightweight regulator design with the latest advances in breathing performance technology and durable engineering,” according to a SCUBAPRO news release.
The MK19 EVO/G260 regulator can be a good choice for cold water or harsh conditions for a variety of reasons.
The MK19 EVO is SCUBAPRO’s premium air-balanced diaphragm first stage. It delivers constant and effortless airflow unaffected by depth, tank pressure or breathing rate.
It’s closed off from the elements, so mariners won’t have any trouble when diving in murky water or near silty bottoms, SCUBAPRO Brand Evangelist Brent Durand told Fishermen’s News. The environmentally sealed design also helps prevent freezing.
“The MK19 EVO first stage is sealed, making it ideal in environments heavy in particulate, like fluttering up sand on the bottom while fishing,” Durand said.
It’s teamed with the G260, which is versatile in terms of configuration and its design is resistant to freezing, he noted.
“The G260 has a reputation for performance and is popular with fishermen because it breathes excellent at all orientations in the water (e.g. in an awkward position grabbing something),” he said.
The metal internal components, high-flow exhaust valve and left-right hose attachment option are also helpful features for improved breathing comfort and adjustability in extreme diving conditions.
SCUBAPRO also has a backplate and wing system for fishers diving in rough waters.
The new S-TEK Pro system package with an S-TEK Pro stainless steel backplate paired with S-Tek Donuts (aka wings) of different lift capacities, includes a 40-pound wing, which works great with different suits.
“This backplate/wing setup stands up to the toughest dive conditions while featuring the intuitive design and attention to detail that SCUBAPRO is known for,” Durand said. “The single tank adapter is extremely durable and secure, and when paired with a large steel tank and 40-pound wing is the perfect combination for thick wetsuit or drysuit diving.”
The design is tough, but comfortable. The backplate includes adjustable TEK LOC shoulders and molded Monprene pads that grip and cushion the diver’s shoulders, waist and back. It’s aimed at offering stability, durability and flexibility, all important features for commercial fishermen who need to dive. Monprene pads don’t absorb water and are resistant to abrasion, chemicals and ultraviolet light.
The new technical diving program is “revolutionary” as the new design “re-invents the classic backplate and wing system,” SCUBAPRO officials wrote in an April 6 press release. The 3D formed backplate mirrors the natural shape of a diver’s back for natural comfort, but doesn’t sacrifice durability.
“Combining premium materials, innovative design, and easy customizations, S-Tek offers unparalleled comfort and performance for technical divers of all levels,” the statement reads.
The company also has made advances in diving technology.
SCUBAPRO’s Galileo HUD hands-free computer is mask-mounted, a notable difference from the traditional wrist or gauge-attached tech. This system, new to the dive world, features a virtual, “floating” heads-up display at eye-level so divers don’t have to glance away to get vital information.
“This innovative computer attached to the diver’s mask, display(s) all dive data in front of the eye. This is beneficial since it allows the diver to continue working with their hands without the need to lift an arm to check a wrist or console computer,” Durand said. “The HUD is also extremely popular with military and professional services divers for the same reason.”
Using an intuitive push-wheel knob, divers can quickly navigate the customizable menu. The screen also tilts up and out of the way before or after a dive, or any time it’s not needed.
“Ideally the SCUBAPRO Galileo HUD computer is paired with our wireless transmitter, which transmits tank pressure right to the computer, eliminating the need to manually check a SPG,” Durand added.
Another update for professional divers is a new style option on a classic piece of gear.
SCUBAPRO’s Jet Fins are practically famous. Half a century ago, the distinctive fin design set the standard for power and durability. The rugged rubber fins are used by a variety of divers.
“These iconic fins are the first choice for technical and many coldwater divers who are fishing or working commercially. They’re tough, powerful and perform,” Durand said. “New for 2022 are the camo color Jet Fins!”
The new styles offer a fun update to the standard solid color options.
For more information, visit scubapro.johnsonoutdoors.com
For commercial fishers who are diving in shallow water, Lombardi Undersea has developed some innovative gear.
For 25 years, Lombardi Undersea has offered dive services and developed products for their own purposes. The company started their commercialization efforts a few years ago and now supplies a variety of equipment, primarily aimed at working divers, Lombardi Undersea owner Michael Lombardi told Fishermen’s News. And they’d also welcome contact from anyone looking to distribute or retail items.
The company’s hookah-diving setup is popular among commercial fishers, he noted. The 75-foot long hose extends from a kayak, small boat or a dock topside and supplies the diver on the bottom.
“We’ve incorporated some safety features that competitors have overlooked—namely a non-return valve at the diver to prevent a lung injury with a hose rupture,” Lombardi said. “Hookah diving is very popular with harvesters, as well as with divers performing routine vessel husbandry to scrape barnacles, clear entanglements and so on.”
The company’s most notable innovation is the Rebreather Day 1 (RD1).
“Quite simply, the apparatus captures the diver’s exhalations, removes carbon dioxide, adds oxygen that the body has metabolized … giving the diver a newly refreshed breath,” he explained.
The technique of “rebreathing” dates back to the late 1800s, but the technology has been slow to reach the mainstream due to the science that needed to take place over the last century to understand and mitigate the hazards of these closed systems, Lombardi explained. For instance, too little or too much oxygen can be fatal, as can too much carbon dioxide.
“Today, we have very good training to address this, as well as additional technical advances,” he said.
Lombardi’s interest in “rebreather” technology began in the early 2000s. He started modifying off-the-shelf rebreathers and finally embarked on the formal development of the RD1 in 2017.
“We’ve been using the system extensively since then and are just starting to explore market opportunities,” Lombardi said.
The project was in direct response to Rhode Island commercial shellfish harvesters who needed to improve dive efficiency. Conventional SCUBA generally provides about an hour of dive time (depending on the depth). For most commercial dive harvesters of the hard-shell clam, a full day is 3-5 hours of dive time, albeit very shallow in 20 feet of water or less, Lombardi explained. That means stopping work, ascending and switching tanks multiple times a day, he noted.
“Recognizing the lack of efficiency that could easily be solved with a rebreather, I considered this new approach,” Lombardi said.
So he started developing a bubble-free diving apparatus that provides five hours of dive time on a single dive. There are also numerous physical and physiological advantages as well, he pointed out. One is that recycled gas is warmer (close to body temp) than air in a tank (equal to water temp). Second is that divers are breathing a higher amount of oxygen, which is therapeutic. And third is the tranquility of being bubble free.
“I find the dives much more enjoyable, and can even result in improved wildlife interactions while working,” he said.
At the time he started developing the RD1, off-the-shelf rebreathers were far too complex for shallow harvesting, as most are designed for deep diving.
“We greatly simplified the system for ease of use, and with ruggedized features suitable for being put to work in a commercial shellfish operation,” Lombardi said. “I’ve noticed about 20-25% increase in harvest yields by using this technology, mostly from being able to stay with the work area without a break every hour.”
All of the equipment his company develops is the result of iterative improvements based on real-world experience, Lombardi said.
“The first RD1 units were cobbled together, and we slowly introduced commercially finished components,” he said.
As of 2021, Lombardi Undersea has partnered with suppliers to bring finished components and full systems to market. The current RD1 system is offered as an ‘oxygen-only’ rebreather, meaning it’s suited for shallow water only, though with minor modifications it can be used in the deep as well.
“We’re in the process of finalizing upgrade kits to allow deeper use. Future development is focused on incorporating gas sensor technology,” he said.
“Any underwater activity needing long dive times will benefit from a rebreather—no doubt about it,” Lombardi said.
With more time underwater, commercial fishers can cover more territory while harvesting. It also beneficial for many divers to be stealthy with the bubble-free system. Commercial spearfishermen, for example, can be virtually undetected, he noted.
For more information, visit underseatools.com.
As far as spearfishing goes, there’s been a few developments in the industry in recent years, Bret Whitman, spearfishing expert and host of the Spear Factor podcast, told Fishermen’s News via email. Advances have primarily been aimed at improving gear transportability with travel guns leading the way, followed closely by gear bags, he said.
“With airline expenses, going through the roof, the ability to pack light and be mobile is crucial,” Whitman remarked. “These guns with breakdown shafts and travel bags really help in this effort.”
A key gear improvement he’s seen is the development of those bags.
“I truly believe that the Neptonics travel bag are one of the better items on the market due to the amount of gear you can safely pack and transport,” Whitman said.
Spearguns that are easier to transport also have been a recent focus in the industry. Paul Rodriguez of Hot Rod Spearguns has developed some really amazing break-down travel guns that can fit in a carry-on case, Whitman said.
He also mentioned another innovative builder, Cameron Gregg of Tag Spearguns. He’s developed carbon fiber pipe guns that require no hardware to put together, Whitman explained.
“Both these travel guns I have personally used and continue to use regularly, including a recent trip to the Mariana Islands,” he said.
“Travel spear guns are becoming more popular in the spearfishing world,” Rodriguez, the owner, builder and sole operator of Hot Rod Spearguns, said during a phone interview with Fishermen’s News.
Spearguns are traditionally built out of an entire piece of stock—either carbon fiber, steel, or wood—it’s all one piece, he explained. Divers usually only get between a range of 10 to 15 feet to the fish. In order to shoot that distance, a speargun is about five feet long.
“Flying on a plane with something that length is not comfortable and can incur extra costs,” Rodriguez said.
Hot Rod Spearguns has developed spearguns, both all wood and hybrid wood and carbon fiber models, that break down in the middle. They are compact enough to pack in a duffel bag, Rodriguez explained.
His spearguns also stand up to saltwater and rough conditions.
“There’s no way for the environment and the elements to do a number on it,” he said.
A newer product from Hot Rod Spearguns is the bluewater series speargun, a carbon fiber water ballasted gun that takes in sea water to neutralize its buoyancy.
There’s also a “whole new world of roller spearguns,” Rodriguez said. They use a two-pulley system that packs a punch while reducing the overall recoil.
“You’re getting the power, but you’re losing the recoil,” he said.
The power of rollers is often over-estimated by speargun manufacturers, Rodriguez cautioned.
A common theme worldwide is lighter and more efficient equipment, including spearguns.
“This has led people to (try) different types of guns like roller guns,” Whitman noted.
On roller guns, the bands stretch the entire length of the speargun and go through a set of rollers at the end, whereas a traditional gun uses the rubber band approach in the last 8 to 12 inches, so the band is completely relaxed, he explained.
“The benefit to this is you can have a shorter gun with the same, if not more, amount of power,” Whitman said.
If a commercial spearfisher is traveling, then these portable spearguns will reduce overhead costs, Rodriguez said.
They’re also more efficient as a two-in-one with a simple tube switch out, he added, which can adapt to a shallow reef versus bluewater environment if the commercial fisher is diving in two different zones.
Commercial spearfishing divers need to be as efficient as possible, Whitman added, there’s a focus on how quickly they can reload and how many fish they can get in the boat.
Being selective and sustainable is a high priority for most spearfishing divers, including both Whitman and Rodriguez.
In Southern California, there is commercial harvesting of fish via spearfishing, he noted. Scuba diving while spearfishing is allowed (in some regions of the world it’s prohibited), although it’s often frowned upon in the community, Whitman said.
Overall, the industry is getting more high-tech, he noted, including with fins. Carbon fiber seems to have more and more of an emphasis in development of the gear, he noted. The most important aspect with fins is durability, then performance, Whitman said.
“For spearfishing, we are entering and exiting from shore at times, as well as jumping in and out of boats, so having a durable set of fins is crucial. Otherwise, you could break a fin and your trip would be over,” he said.
For more information, visit spearfactor.com, hotrodspearguns.com, tagspearguns.com and neptonics.com.
Sara Hall has 15 years of experience at several regional and national magazines, online news outlets, and daily and weekly newspapers, where coverage has included reporting on local harbor activities, marine-based news, and regional and state coastal agencies. Her work has included photography, writing, design and layout.