The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has confirmed it is investigating the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, in monitoring, control and surveillance activities aimed at combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities.
The ongoing investigation is expected to determine whether drones will be able to provide any operational improvements, considering the current resources at the ministry’s disposal deployed to conduct surveillance within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The outcome of these investigations and consultations with relevant stakeholders, inclusive of cost-benefit analysis, will determine when the fisheries ministry will commence with drone usage.
“In deciding on the use of drones, a number of things needs to be determined. Amongst others is the range, the usefulness of the pictures taken by the drones, and the ability to detect IUU fishing activities at night,” the ministry stated in response to New Era questions.
The fisheries ministry is mandated to enforce fisheries laws at sea, along the coastal line and public inland water bodies such as rivers, dams and lakes.
The Namibian Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ), which the ministry is tasked to monitor, is over 500 000 square kilometres, with a national coastal line stretching over 1500km in length.
A ministerial spokesperson yesterday explained the ministry is still conducting its investigations on the use of drones; thus, it cannot tell at this juncture what relevant policies or legislations need to be amended to enable drone operation.
However, the ministry feels the law may make provision for the acceptability of evidence collected by the drones during surveillance operations.
“With respect to IUU, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is investigating the usefulness of drones in improving our operations. For instance, if a patrol craft (vehicle or patrol vessel) is in the vicinity of where a drone detects IUU fishing activity, the craft can be directed there to further investigate and take appropriate action. However, if there is no patrol craft in the vicinity, a drone would only be useful if it can produce credible evidence that can be accepted in courts. For instance, high-quality pictures that can be used to positively identify the culprit(s), provide the GPS position, date, time and the type of activity being conducted at the time,” read the statement from the fisheries ministry.
The spokesperson continued the ministry is seeking to strengthen collaborative efforts with all law enforcement agencies within the country to combat IUU and fisheries crimes at sea, coastal areas or any public inland water bodies.
In the same vein, the ministry is pursuing efforts to strengthen fisheries relationships through bilateral agreements to start conducting joint fisheries patrols with neighbouring countries such as Angola (sea patrols and river patrols) and Botswana (river patrols).
“The ministry is cognisant of the fact that our world is dynamic and has changed tremendously with respect to the use of technology, and is required to keep up with these new changes. The ministry assures the industry and public at large that it will execute its mandate with utmost diligence and professionalism, to ensure the sustainability of marine resources for the benefit of the Namibian people,” the spokesperson stated.
Meanwhile, as drones have evolved technologically they have become part and parcel of global military forces where they are used as target decoys, for combat missions, research and development, as well as for supervision.
However, when contacted for information on drone usage the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) said any information about UEV’s could be used against the NDF and could compromise the force’s operations and security.
An NDF spokesperson told New Era that any information on the use of drones “could lay bare the NDF and the ones to suffer will be the soldiers on the frontlines”. The NDF added that any information on its use of drones will be shared “on a need to know basis”.
Furthermore, while drones have been used in monitoring environmental capacities for several years, an environment and forestry spokesperson last week told New Era the ministry does not use any drones whatsoever.
This is despite the fact that drone technology can map and survey a variety of environmental factors, including land erosion, wildfire risks, invasive species growth and endangered species populations.
In fact, the use of or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) continues to be widespread around the world, as it is used in cropping, monitoring plants, pests control and many other areas, including forest and environmental monitoring.