Latvia to use drones to fight illegal fishing

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As methods for illegal fishing become more modern, the Latvian State Environmental Service (SES) has announced a tender for buying drones to gain an edge over the criminals, reported a Wednesday story on Latvian Radio.

Jūlija Ņikitina, a representative of the SES told Latvian Radio that the service is planning to buy five drones that would ensure that the fishing laws by and in the sea are adhered to. 

"By letting the vehicles into the air it's possible to ascertain the location of the illegal fishermen and to go and detain them, [..] said Ņikitina.

The drones are to be bought up in a tender and given to Regional Environmental Boards in Liepāja, Ventspils, Rīga and Valmiera. One drone will be used for operations in the sea.

The project also includes teaching fishing inspectors to use the drones and record evidence correctly, stressed Jūlija Ņikitina:
"Thus we can record the lawbreaker during the act and show that the particular persons are at fault and there are no more talks. By now it's one of the most important problems why it's possible that illegal fishermen get lower fines, as it has to be proven that [the nets discovered] are their fishing nets and their fishing equipment. We hope that these drones will help us work more effectively."

The SES had consulted their Estonian colleagues about using unmanned vehicles. Latvian Radio contacted the Estonian Environmental Service, revealing that Estonians are rather careful about the prospect of using drones. The service said that they have purchased only a single drone, which is still being tested.

"We have ascertained that the weather has to be very good in order to use a drone. For example, if the wind is very strong it can't be used, as it creates a lot of problems," Meit Grosman of the Estonian Environmental Inspectorate. 

"The drone is difficult to control and it can be lost as it can get confused and not return to you. It's also difficult to use the drone in direct sunlight. We use the drone for monitoring inner waters. For example, little lakes that are difficult to access - we don't go there but send a drone instead. If it is discovered there are illegal nets placed there, the inspector goes to retrieve it," he said. 

While Alvis Birkovs, head of the Latvian Fishermen's Association, said that many countries use drones for fighting illegal fishing. He told Latvian Radio that the aircraft puts psychological pressure on the fishermen, and also revealed that fishermen are becoming much sneakier, with some using thermoindicators that reveal officials that are hidden somewhere.

The SES tender is worth €27,000 without the Value Added Tax. The project is financed by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. The service also noted that two (unnamed) municipalities are planning to use EU funds to purchase drones for fighting illegal fishing in inner waters. 

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