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Drone Patrols More Important as Illegal Fishing Activity Increases During 2020 COVID Restrictions, IFI Says

11th September 2021
Drone with camera mount at flight with a forest background
Drones similar to this have been used increasingly by Inland Fisheries Ireland to patrol hard-to-reach areas

Patrol drones and other surveillance equipment have become increasingly important to detect illegal angling and fishing in hard-to-reach areas, according to Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI).

The State agency with responsibility for the protection and conservation of freshwater fish and habitats says it recorded an increase in illegal fishing activity last year during COVID restrictions.

Over 33,000 patrols undertaken by fisheries officers in 2020, the agency initiated 119 prosecutions for fisheries-related offences in 2020, compared with 67 prosecutions in 2019.

IFI seized 1,287 illegal fishing items last year, up from 788 items the year before. Fisheries officers issued 240 fixed-charge penalty notices in 2020, compared with 158 in 2019 and gave 756 cautions, up from 425 cautions the previous year.

The way in which IFI patrols the country’s rivers and lakes also changed during the first months of the pandemic, the agency says, with unmanned drone patrols becoming increasingly important especially for difficult-to-reach terrains.

Dr Greg Forde, head of operations with IFI, said: “Safeguarding Ireland’s fisheries resources is a round-the-clock job, involving planned day patrols, covert night patrols and intelligence-led surveillance operations.

“Despite the fact that there was a global pandemic and travel restrictions in place for the public for much of the year, our teams all over the country recorded a higher level of illegal fishing activity last year, compared with 2019.”

IFI says its officers undertook a total of 33,051 patrols of different types last year, a substantial increase on the previous year (28,276) despite pandemic-related work challenges.

The agency also credits higher detection rates with the use of advanced surveillance equipment, such as night vision scopes, infra-red sensing scopes and enhanced optical surveillance scopes.

IFI chief executive Francis O’Donnell said its protection programme plays a key role in tackling serious ecological issues.

“Ireland’s freshwater fish, the habitats that they live in and the water that they swim in are all under threat,” he said. “So, the aim of our protection programme is to help protect stocks of vulnerable fish species, such as Atlantic salmon and sea trout, as well as promoting biodiversity and sustainable angling, which can bring important social and economic benefits to urban, rural and coastal communities.”

The most common methods for patrolling riverbanks, rivers, lakes and coastlines in 2020 were:

  • Vehicle and foot patrols (30,882 patrols)
  • Bicycle patrols (1,227 patrols)
  • Boat patrols (573 patrols)
  • Drone patrols (136 patrols)
  • Kayak patrols (129 patrols)
  • Personal watercraft patrols (56 patrols)
  • Quad patrols (46 patrols)

The number of drone patrols more than doubled in 2020, Dr Ford says. “Drones help us patrol greater distances over shorter periods of time. We increased the number of drones in our fleet last year and more of our officers were trained as drone pilots to the standard required by the Irish Aviation Authority, which has significantly increased our capacity to patrol certain types of terrain.

“Together with heat-detecting and surveillance equipment, drones are vital in the fight against illegal fishing here in Ireland.”

Meanwhile, members of the public are being encouraged to report any suspicions of illegal fishing activity directly to IFI by telephoning its 24-hour confidential hotline on 1890 34 74 24.

Published in Angling
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