Located in Scotland, the magnificent River Dee is one of the most famous salmon rivers in the world. But as popular as the 100% “Catch and Release” river is with anglers, it has been notoriously targeted for years by poachers who remove the fish illegally. So now, drones have been brought in to catch the criminals.
The Dee District Salmon Fishery Board & River Dee Trust (DDSFB) has recently started testing drone technology to net salmon poachers. Drones patrol the various bays and inlets of the coastline, giving DDSFB the data they need to ensure all illegally set nets targeting salmon are identified and removed swiftly.
Jamie Urquhart, the fisheries protection manager at DDSFB, explains why the organization decided to test out drones:
There are threats from organized criminal gangs who come and net the river. We have known family gangs who travel around all the rivers in Scotland removing fish with a gillnet. Using the new tech, we can identify locations where we know poaching instances are common.
The bigger issue is, these poaching instances have become much more common than they used to be because poachers have been taking advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown to plunder the river. In 2020, the DDSFB recorded 53 incidents of poaching, which is more than twice its annual average.
As Lorraine Hawkins, river director of the River Dee fishery board, tells The Press & Journal:
The opportunity has increased because there are just fewer people on the river, such as anglers or ghillies. It has been a wide-open river for people who know about poaching to be able to do so.
Drones keep salmon poachers away
This is why drones, that can surveille huge swathes of land from the sky, have emerged as the ideal anti-poaching solution. Urquhart adds:
We can use them if approaching any suspicious characters that may put our staff at risk, or have a scan of the area and decide whether we need to deploy more resources.
And though DDSFB’s drones are yet to catch a salmon poacher in the act, their mere presence seems to be making the criminals wary. Urquhart quips:
It appears to be working as an effective deterrent, especially in known hotspot areas like around Stonehaven or the Feugh. It’s really helped to diminish the number of policing incidents that we typically see at this time of year.
And right now, that’s all that matters.
Urquhart believes that salmon poaching not only damages the fish stocks but also the reputation of the river. He sums up:
People come from all over the globe to come and fish the Dee, paying hundreds of pounds to do so and spending even more money in the local area. In addition to that, the stock of salmon in the Dee is a very special stock which is protected by a special area of conservation.
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