Using drones in the pursuit of fish and game has raised legal and ethical issues that are being debated all over North America. New forms of technology have given rise to questions about what the term “fair chase” means to the modern outdoorsman. In an effort to level the playing field, many states have already enacted fairly strict policies on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in both hunting and fishing.
We now have the ability, using thermal-imaging cameras on a UAV, to locate wild animals at night just from their body heat. It is now possible to send a UAV out over the woods and find out where the deer or moose are bedded down. If we know where they lay up at night, it makes it much easier for us to target them during the day.
The question we have to ask ourselves is at what point does our technological ability alter what we have traditionally called hunting. The pre-season scouting, slowly kayaking a marsh to find duck feeding spots, using a crow call just a dusk to get a turkey to gobble back, or following a stream bank to locate where deer come to drink have all been part of the process. It is this process that has given me more enjoyment than the actual taking. How do we insure that this part of hunting does not disappear?
There are already laws on the books in Massachusetts that governs some of our behavior in this area. For example, it would be illegal to set up your duck blind and then send out a drone to the other end of the marsh to flush up birds in the hopes they would fly your way. You can not herd, drive or harass wildlife.
However, if you went to the marsh a week before the season opens, you could send a drone out to find where the ducks were currently feeding so you would know where best to set your blind. As long as the UAV does not rise above four hundred feet and is always in eyesight of the operator, it is legal to fly.
You are out fishing and have anchored up over a knob. Off in the distance you see a flock of birds diving into the water. Wouldn’t it be helpful to send a drone over the area to see what attracted them to the spot? How about finding schools of mackerel in the bay or tuna cruising the surface.? All of the above would be illegal. Spotter planes (a UAV would be considered a spotter plane) are not generally allowed.
You cannot use remote control hunting equipment to take wildlife when the person is not physically in the presence of the gun. There are UAVs that can have guns mounted on them and be remotely fired. This law prevents the use of such a device. In addition, a person cannot use a UVA to harass hunters legally pursuing game. This was put in place to stop groups like PETA from using UAVs to follow and bother hunters in the field.
Using technology to follow fish and game is hardly a new phenomenon. For years now fishermen have used fish finders with GPS to find a particular reef, drop off or river channel and then pinpoint a large fish or school of fish. The current machines are amazingly accurate and descriptive.
We now use a compass less and less. Instead, we connect with Google Earth or use other electronic means to find our way in the swamps, marshes and woods of our home state. So how is it different to use infrared lights to find moose or deer at night? Is it not, after all, just a fishfinder for wild game?
The question we have to ask ourselves is, just because we can, is it “right” to do so?
As of Dec 15, 2015 every drone, including equipment it will carry, that weighs between
0.55 lbs to 55 lbs. has to be registered with the FAA. Registration is a statutory requirement that applies to all aircraft. Under this rule, any owner of a small UAS who has previously operated an unmanned aircraft exclusively as a model aircraft prior to December 21, 2015, must register no later than February 19, 2016. Owners of any other UAS purchased for use as a model aircraft after December 21, 2015 must register before the first flight outdoors. Owners may use either the paper-based process or the new streamlined, web-based system. Owners using the new streamlined web-based system must be at least 13 years old to register.Owners may register through a web-based system at www.faa.gov/uas/registration
Registrants will need to provide their name, home address and e-mail address. Upon completion of the registration process, the web application will generate a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that will include a unique identification number for the UAS owner, which must be marked on the aircraft.
Owners using the model aircraft for hobby or recreation will only have to register once and may use the same identification number for all of their model UAS. The registration is valid for three years. The normal registration fee is $5, but in an effort to encourage as many people as possible to register quickly, the FAA is waiving this fee for the first 30 days (from Dec. 21, 2015 to Jan 20, 2016).
“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” said FAA Administrator Huerta. “Registration gives us the opportunity to educate these new airspace users before they fly so they know the airspace rules and understand they are accountable to the public for flying responsibly.”
Drones can be a lot of fun. Get them registered and use then responsibly.