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Drone fishing is an increasingly popular way to extend the range of on-shore fishermen and nullify the effects of bad weather on the sport, but the ethics remain cloudy.
The drone makes it possible to bypass obstructions like reefs and backline waves which limit the normal casting range – and the angler is no longer dependent on the strength of his or her arm.
“I have heard fishermen say that they can cast 200m in perfect conditions, but I have never seen it. Most good fishermen can cast about 160m at most,” said Ballito fisherman Eric Heyns.
This casting range puts restrictions on the type of fish that can be caught from the shore.
A drone reaching out beyond the breakers.
Drone fishing emerged as a reasonably cost effective way to solve this problem, with drones costing around R1000 on the low end of the spectrum.
“With a drone you can cast about 500m offshore which puts you in range of catching pelagic fish which are much better from the sporting aspect,” said Heyns.
The way drone fishing works means that the sport remains because fighting and reeling in the fish is still done as normal.
“Apex predators in the pelagic group are not stupid. They get that big for a reason. It is still very uncommon to catch a shark because they don’t just bite on anything.”
However there are still many people who see the use of drones as cheating.
“I understand why people say this, but it’s no different from using a jetski or kayak to get to that distance. Many fishing boats even have fish imaging software now to target gamefish. Drones are just easier to target because you can see them.”
But the Oceanographic Research Institute believes that the use of drones exposes new areas to fishing, says senior scientist Bruce Mann.
The breaker zone was previously protected, as kayak and jetski fishermen had to go further out from shore to escape the rough water.
This left an area that was unreachable from the shore and for offshore fishermen alike, where species could maintain safe breeding grounds.
Drone fishermen are able to target this area, contributing to a decrease in the fish stocks, says Mann.
Fish caught by anglers using drones have to be fought for longer to bring them to shore.
This, Mann believes, causes a buildup of lactic acid in the fish which in turn leads to increased blood glucose, reduced blood pH and exhaustion.
This means that even traditionally strong gamefish and sharks will be more vulnerable to predators when they are put back in the water.
Drone fishing is not legal in South Africa unless the operator has a licence to legally drop payloads, which requires a 4-8 week long practical training component.
The fishermen are not currently being targeted because it is a new aspect to the sport, but as awareness and conservation concerns increase, they may be liable to fines.
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