Use of drones for recreational fishing still illegal – Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has strongly criticized fishermen who use electronic devices for illegal fishing in South African dams and rivers. Last year in February, the Department was made aware of recreational anglers using devices such as drones and remote-controlled boats to unlawfully catch fish and sharks in the country’s water bodies. Sport fishing events: yes play app download

The Department has previously stated that the use of these devices is strictly prohibited and has warned recreational anglers and the public about the enforcement actions that will be taken against those found using them.

In March 2022, Gannet Works Proprietary Limited, a company selling fishing drones, and other members of the angling community filed a legal application against the deputy director-general of fisheries management and the minister responsible for forestry, fisheries, and the environment.

The application requested the court to declare that using bait-carrying drones, bait-carrying remote-controlled boats, and other remotely-operated devices is not prohibited under the Marine Living Resources Act, 1998 (MLRA) and its implementing regulations.

On April 12, 2022, the court denied the request. A subsequent application for leave to appeal was also denied on October 26, 2022.

However, on May 2, 2023, the Supreme Court of Appeal granted permission to appeal, but the appeal has not yet been heard by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Following the granting of permission to appeal, incorrect information began circulating on various social media platforms, particularly targeting recreational anglers. This misinformation claimed that the appeal rendered the February 24, 2022 notification null and void, implying that fishing with drones was now legal. Anglers were encouraged to continue using their drones for fishing. However, this interpretation is incorrect.

To address this misinformation, the Department sought the opinion of a senior counsel who stated clearly that the permission to appeal does not invalidate the February 24, 2022 notification. The notification provided a summary and explanation of the legal provisions in the MLRA regarding recreational fishing.

Therefore, despite the permission to appeal, drone fishing remains illegal.

In essence, the court’s judgment and order on April 12, 2022 did not overturn the existing legal framework or find the statutory requirements for lawful recreational fishing unconstitutional. The statutory obligations imposed on recreational anglers since 2005 and the definition of “angling” remain fully enforced and part of the legal framework.

Consequently, the suspension of the High Court’s order to dismiss the case does not suspend the operation, execution, and enforcement of the law under the MLRA and its regulations concerning recreational anglers, which have been in effect since 2005. It also does not affect the definition of “angling.”

The Department has affirmed that it will continue to enforce the law as announced on February 24, 2022, unless the Supreme Court of Appeal issues a contrary order.