EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written in response to reader-submitted query through Open Source, a platform where readers can ask Richland Source’s newsroom to investigate a question.
MANSFIELD -- It's not a question often asked of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
But a Richland Source reader asked it through Open Source, so we pursued an answer: "Is it legal in the State of Ohio to use a band-powered speargun while snorkeling to spearfish?"
The best answer is a qualified yes, but only for forage fish, according to Jamey Emmert, communications specialist for the ODNR Division of Wildlife.
"That's the first time I have ever gotten that question," Emmert said.
According to the Ohio Administrative Code, it's lawful to take only forage fish while skin diving with a snorkel or while scuba diving in any water owned or controlled by the division of wildlife or in any other water area where skin or scuba diving is lawful.
"That said, I would hesitate to assume any waters owned or controlled by county or metro parks for instance would permit this activity. It’s always best to check first, of course," she said.
She said it may be done in private waters with permission from the landowner. Emmert encouraged residents to call their county wildlife officer or 1-800-WILDLIFE for additional information or clarification before diving in.
Forage fish are sheepshead, carp, grass carp, silver carp, black carp, big-head carp, quillback, suckers, bowfin, gar, buffalo, gizzard shad, and goldfish and may be taken by any method except as expressly prohibited, such as the use of explosives, poisons, firearms, electricity, chemicals, seines, nets or traps.
A band-powered speargun doesn't operate with chemicals or explosives, Emmert said.
Acccording to the website spearfishingworld.com, "Band-powered spear guns are very popular the world over. They are powerful, accurate weapons that are virtually silent when fired. Aiming is easy with a band-powered gun, especially with open muzzles where the diver can see the complete path of the shaft. Unlike Pneumatic spear guns, this gun’s power can be increased dramatically simply by adding more bands, which a diver can load one at a time thus achieving great combined power. Band-powered spear guns also require very little maintenance."
One key to successful spearfishing while snorkeling or scuba diving would be visibility, making the practice difficult at places like the Clearfork Reservoir.
"If it's legal in the State of Ohio, it's legal here," said Gary Foster, operations supervisor for the reservoir, which is owned and operated by the City of Mansfield and has its own section under the city's codified ordinances.
"I am not sure how you would do it, though. Visibility here is about a foot and a half. Maybe in mid summer it may be a bit better," Foster said.
Foster said, for example, it would be easier to stand in the bow of a boat with a bow to take a carp when its back comes out of the water as it feeds along the bank.
"We don't have rules against it," he said.
Except perhaps the rules of common sense?
"If common sense was common, everyone would have it," Foster said with a laugh.