Will There Ever Be a Place in Fishing and Hunting for Drones?
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) also commonly known as drones have become extremely popular with hobbyists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Drones were previously mainly used in military operations to track and hit enemy targets, but they are increasingly being used in new ways that could not have been imagined just a short time ago. Current use of drones now encompass not only military applications but also commercial as well as recreational ones, with a growing number of outdoor enthusiasts including big game fishermen and hunters viewing the budding technology as a new tool in their arsenal.
In fact, what may have started with a few enthusiasts strapping a video camera to a radio-controlled airplane has now sprouted a new industry with manufacturers designing and producing highly sophisticated hunting and fishing drones armed with high tech software, infrared imaging, built-in Wi-Fi and GPS capable of locating their target and sending information back to a any computer or mobile device. There is even a waterproof quadcopter drone that not only lets you locate fish but can also carry your bait or lure over the target and remotely drop the line into the water. In general, personal UAVs or drones used for hunting and fishing can range in cost from just a few hundred dollars for basic designs to $1,000 and more for more sophisticated models.
The Debate Over Drone Use for Fishing and Hunting
However, there is a strong debate going on about the possible consequences of the increased use of drones for fishing and hunting. Many are questioning the ethics of using this type of technology to target wildlife. They contend that the use of drones gives the hunter or angler an unfair advantage and violates the spirit of fair chase which has long been upheld by outdoor purists. Furthermore, they believe that the negative consequences of using of drones for fishing and hunting purposes far exceeds the benefits. This group even consists of several hunter and angler associations who have strongly condemned the activity on ethical grounds.
But those arguments do not appear to be deterring proponents of drone use in fishing and hunting, many of whom do not feel that the technology violates the spirit of the chase and say that the use of drones is no different than the embracing of other technological advancements throughout history to enhance outdoor pursuits. They argue that it is no different than using GPS to find your location in the wild, or a fishfinder to spot schools of fish or even a trail camera to locate deer in the woods. Some see clear benefits to the use of drones: for example, their use to spot fish could potentially save fishermen not only time but also gallons of gas and hundreds of dollars as there would be less need to run their boats trying to locate them.
But regardless of which side of the debate one is on, the use of the technology is taking off. If we want to gauge the current popularity of drones for personal use, we need not look any further than YouTube for examples of it. There have also been several videos posted there and online that show the different the ways in which people are fishing with drones for various types of fish. One specific video shows how a drone helped in locating and identifying schools of tuna. It appears that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by anglers and hunters will only grow too as the technology continues to improve and costs keep coming down.
The Hunter Becomes the Hunted
Outdoor enthusiasts aside, drones are being utilized by others such as scientists, farmers and even conservationists who want to use them to monitor hunting and fishing activities on public lands and waters. Conservation groups point out that drones can be used effectively in spotting illegal poaching which has threatened the existence of many precious animals and species of fish including Bluefin Tuna. One such group, animal rights organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) launched a campaign in 2013 called as “Air Angels” in which drones are being used to monitor the hunting activities. In fact, drone use for the protection of wildlife has gone global. In some parts of Africa, for example, anti-poaching drones are being used in national parks to protect animals such elephants and rhinos from possible extinction.
While many would argue that these campaigns are necessary and may actually help to preserve and protect the wildlife by keeping a watchful eye on hunters who kill animals illegally, there are those also who complain and say that what the conservation groups are doing amounts to nothing more than harassment and an invasion of privacy. Some hunters have even gone as far as to threaten to shoot down drones if encountered in the field.
Ethical and legal debates appear to only be heating up with people on both sides of the argument making their case. While those in favor of using drones in pursuit of their favorite outdoor activities say that it is just another progression of technology to be embraced, there are others equally opposed. The states too, no longer able to ignore the public controversy that the use of drones has created, have stepped in with drone laws passed to ban the use of any unmanned aerial devices which hunt, harass or disturb wildlife. Michigan, for example, recently prohibited hunters and fishermen alike from using drones to take game and fish. Lawmakers in Oregon also recently made the use of drones in fishing and hunting illegal in their state, joining Colorado, Montana and Alaska who have already tightened their laws on drones. Many more states are considering a ban on the application of drones to scout and track wildlife as the debate picks up steam.
The Future for Drone-Assisted Hunting and Fishing
As with many new and disruptive technology in the past, there will be controversy and debate regarding the use of drone technology in taking wild game. Is the activity really unethical or just a new twist in the evolution of our popular outdoor sports? Will the states and wildlife commissions put an end to this phenomenon before it even takes flight? Perhaps, but the debate does not appear to be quite finished yet.
With so many voices on both sides of the argument and with the technology and its uses still evolving, we will most likely continue to have a strong debate in the coming months, years and maybe well into the future. There is no doubt drones will be increasingly used in many applications going forward, and that they will also become more popular for personal use as they become more accessible and cheaper to own. Sure they should be regulated and even outlawed where their use presents potential hazards or is clearly illegal, but for now at least the ethics part of the argument seems to be murky waters at best. Can and should there be a compromise between the two opposing sides on the matter? Is there any room for the use of drones in outdoor sports, in particular fishing and hunting?