Drones detect illegal and derelict crab traps in a shallow water estuary
The issues surrounding illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and that of abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gears, leading to ghost fishing, are intensifying. Estuarine crab trapping is likely subject to high levels of illegal and potential ghost fishing, because it also has good economic incentives regarding potential catch, low gear acquisition costs and accessible fishing grounds. To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance operations, the efficacy of small consumer-grade drones for sighting traps in an estuary in NSW, Australia, was tested. Twelve sets of two flights were undertaken at 20 and 30 m altitude over a 600-m stretch of estuary for 5 days to quantify the detectability of submerged mesh traps of three different mesh colours. The drone was able to detect the majority of traps efficiently, with depth in relation to water clarity being the main factor affecting detection. In shallow water, detection rates were high for all mesh colours, but in the slightly deeper placements, orange traps were more readily detected. This study demonstrates that drones could be an efficient and reliable tool for rapidly assessing areas for illegal and derelict traps and can be supplemented into land or vessel-based fisheries operations.