Regulators Debate the Future of Drone Hunting and Fishing

Forty-five of the 50 US states prohibit the use of drones for the purpose of hunting wildlife, including bears, deer and birds.  The reasons are largely moral and ethical:  Using a drone to scout wild animals is widely viewed as a violation of the “Fair Chase Rule,” which stipulates that human hunters should not have undue advantage over their prey.   The five states that allow hunters to deploy drones – including Maryland and Connecticut – have restrictive gun laws overall and hunting is not a widespread practice.  It may well be that the absence of drone hunting incidents of the kinds that spurred regulatory action elsewhere haven’t yet occurred – or been reported. There’s a strong and growing consensus that drone hunting should be banned

That consensus does not apply to fishing, however.  Some of the same states that ban drone hunting do support the use of drones to catch fish, mainly for identifying and tracking schools, much as GPS and popular “fish finder” devices do. However, some anglers are beginning to use drones to cast baited lines and even reel in their prey.   And in some states, anglers are using underwater drones to plant bait and lures to create a swarm of fish susceptible to being harvested from boats loitering on the water’s surface.

In theory, expanded drone use could one day lead to over fishing, depleting local fish stocks and disturbing a habitat’s ecological balance.  However, current drone deployments in bodies of water are occurring on the margins.  And there’s not much evidence that drones are actually increasing fish catches.

Supporters say that drones could be a real boon to those with disabilities that cannot easily wield  a fishing rod.  And they point to numerous other “artificial” fishing enhancements, including scented bait, or just the current practice of chumming, that lures fish into an angler’s lair.  Even more to the point, many people depend on fishing more than hunting for their livelihood, and indeed, just to eat.  So far, only two states have decided to ban drone fishing but even in these cases, the ban does not apply to drone video surveillance to identify and track fish schools.

There is also the very real issue of overpopulation, especially of deer but also pigs that spread disease and pose a threat to humans and farm animals.  In many locales, simply extending the length of the hunting season isn’t helping much.  In Texas, where pig infestations near farms are widespread, the state is considering a measure that would allow hunters to track and kill feral pigs at night – currently the practice is permissible, with a waiver, but only during the day.

The upshot?  Like most issues being raised about drones, an outright ban on their presence or use is probably not the answer.  New technology that facilitates human endeavors is a boon.  The challenge is to devise enlightened regulatory regimes that can reconcile the concerns of different stakeholder groups on behalf of all concerned.  Currently, none of the grave problems envisioned by drone hunting or fishing critics have actually materialized.  A measure of caution about the future may be warranted but not to the detriment of the expanded opportunities afforded by the present.

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