Drone fishermen are in the hot seat

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The giant trevally, a stubborn and powerful predator, is one of Hawaii’s most coveted fish. Hidden in coral reefs and caves, the fish is difficult to see when fishing from shore. But Brandon Barques, a 35-year-old construction worker in Honolulu, knows how to find him. Watching the streaming video feed on his phone, Barques sends a flying drone carrying a fishing line over the waves, searching for large sandy channels and depressions in the seabed. When he finds the right spot, he triggers the drone to drop the line. Then he calls the drone back and waits for a bite.

Among fishermen, small trevallies are called fatherbut fish over 4.5 kilograms are called ulua. Barques has been fishing since he was young but says he never caught a real ulua before he started using a drone. In 2017, with the help of his metallic companion, he finally lands on a 54-kilo giant. Drone fishing is a new world, he says. “It changes the way we fish and the way we think.”

As drones have become more commercially available over the past decade, recreational anglers have discovered a new way to spot fish and cast a line. Some newer flying drones are specifically designed for fishing: they are waterproof and can carry heavy loads of bait. Amateur fishermen can even get their hands on an underwater drone armed with sonar and a luminous lure. While some videos appear to show fishermen catching and transporting fish with drones, most of these devices weigh only a few kilograms, making it unlikely that they can reliably bring in fish, especially heavy fish like the ulua. But they can carry a hook further than even the most expert line.

Barques sees fishing with drones as another hard-to-master skill set. “I’ve seen a lot of people give up,” he says. “They buy a [US] A $3,000 drone and fish for months…and still never caught anything. So I can’t say it’s cheating. He says the drones have also made it possible for people with limited mobility, like his uncle, to fish for ulua.

But not everyone shares Barques’ enthusiasm for these high-tech fishing assistants. Within the fishing community, some anglers question the wisdom and fairness of fighting fish with robots.

“Let’s just take all sport out of sportfishing,” a user named slonezp sarcastically wrote in a 2015 thread on bassresource.com. Others complain that the buzzing drones disrupt the peaceful atmosphere they associate with fishing, with one user calling them “oversized mosquitoes”. But some recreational anglers think drones are no worse than other technologies, like sonar fish finders and GPS navigation, that give them an edge.

In recent years, dissent against drone fishing has reached the halls of government. Several US states, including Michigan and Oregon, have already banned fishing or hunting with drones. South Africa enacted a ban on drone fishing last year after researchers documented internet videos of fishermen catching protected sharks, such as the dusky shark. More recently, a bill introduced this year in the Hawaiian legislature seeks to ban the use of “unmanned aerial vehicles for the purpose of taking aquatic life.” While an earlier version of the bill banned the use of drones for aerial surveillance, the latest version allows it and only prohibits the use of drones to carry fishing gear like lines and bait. The bill has passed both houses and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Before starting to fish with a drone, Boats, in pursuit of the ulua, used to kayak past shallow reefs to cast his line in deep water – a difficult and sometimes dangerous journey. Proponents of the ban worry that drones will increase the number of fishing lines in deep water, simply by making it easier for anglers to get to that depth. This could increase the risk of a hook snagging a surfer, boater or protected animal such as a monk seal, says Brian Neilson, administrator of the Hawaii Department of Lands and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources. However, these problems existed before drones, and although Neilson says his office has received complaints about drones in recent years, it is not clear that they have increased the number of incidents.

For Leimana DaMate, executive director of the Aha Moku Advisory Committee, an administrative body within the Hawaiian state government that advises on environmental issues, the rise of drone fishing is also of particular concern to indigenous peoples. . In a traditional practice that continues today, Native Hawaiians set aside certain ocean areas for fishing. “If you have a drone that can go find these areas, then it’s going to be looted and violated by ocean users who don’t care about the cultural aspect of the area,” she says.

According to Alexander Winkler, a marine ecologist at the Algarve Marine Science Center in Portugal, whose work contributed to South Africa’s ban on drone fishing, the emergence of drone fishing comes against the backdrop the growing understanding by scientists that recreational fishing – not just commercial fishing – can have a dramatic effect on fish populations.

But drones are far from the only technology to shake up sport fishing in recent years, says Winkler: scented lures, improved hooks and even social media, which anglers use to exchange tips and fishing spots, can make fishing more efficient and harder to fish. regulate. “You can’t ban WhatsApp just for fishing,” says Winkler. Once governments figure out how to manage drone fishing, he says, there might be a place for it.

Despite the setback, drone fishing has gained a following in Hawai’i and beyond. However, Barques sometimes attracts the attention of other fishermen on the beach. “Just people who throw in and out every weekend and never catch one,” he says. “And then I invite them with us.”

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