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SAAMBR Statement on the regulation of recreational fishing with drones

By Bruce Mann 

It has come to our attention that the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) has released a notice which makes it clear that the use of drones (also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – UAVs) for the purposes of recreational fishing is illegal in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act (No. 18 of 1998). Based on recent research conducted into the use of drones for recreational fishing globally (Winkler et al. 2021), SAAMBR/ORI supports this action.

Nevertheless, SAAMBR/ORI is disappointed that it took the Department (DFFE) so long to react to the development of this fishery which has been in existence since 2015. Consequently, a large number of anglers have purchased drones for fishing and a support industry has developed. The impact of this delayed compliance action will thus affect considerably more people and jobs than if the practice was prohibited at the start. Furthermore, SAAMBR/ORI is of the opinion that the overall management of the marine recreational fishery in South Africa is extremely poor and much needs to be done to improve the monitoring of effort and catches, adjusting of regulations, and assessing the efficacy of compliance strategies.

Our reasons for supporting the regulations are summarised as follows:

  • Drones enable anglers to target species and access habitats beyond casting distance from the shore. This has resulted in increased catches of endangered shark and ray species and fish species such as black musselcracker in the Eastern Cape and silver kob and white steenbras in the Western Cape.
  • Drones are being used to fish illegally in offshore no-take areas which were specifically zoned to protect offshore reef fish (e.g. within the Pondoland Marine Protected Area).
  • Fish and shark species are being hooked long distances offshore (hundreds of metres) resulting in extended fight times, reduced survival rates after release and greater levels of depredation by other predators.
  • The long distances of line or braid in the water after the bait is dropped by a drone result in greater amounts of lost tackle (and subsequent environmental impacts) when break-offs do occur.
  • The high cost of drones makes this type of fishing only available to a few affluent anglers. This is considered an unfair advantage by most shore anglers who are limited to traditional casting. A degree of user conflict has thus developed between drone anglers and conventional shore anglers.
  • Flying of drones in public spaces such as on beaches can impact on the privacy and enjoyment of the beach by other users.
  • Drones are being used to transport baits long distances out to sea (up to 500 m) and in so doing are in contravention of the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) regulations which prohibit recreational drones carrying and dropping a payload. They also present a considerable danger to manned aircraft flying at low altitude along the coast, especially light sport aircraft.
  • Some drone anglers (especially along the KZN coast) operate their drones within a 10 km radius of an aerodrome or in prohibited, restricted or controlled airspace. This is extremely dangerous and is also prohibited by the SACAA.
  • Some drone pilots are charging a fee to carry other angler’s baits long distances out to sea. In most cases this is illegal as these pilots do not have the necessary permission (or training) to do this (i.e. a commercial UAV pilots licence).


Winkler AC, Butler ED, Attwood CG, Mann BQ, Potts WM. 2021. The emergence of marine recreational drone fishing: regional trends and emerging concerns. Ambio. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-021-01578-y

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