No using drones for salmon spotting, says Alaska Fish Board

Alaska is continuing to clamp down on the use of drones to aid in hunting and fishing.

The Alaska Board of Game, which sets wildlife regulations, a year ago approved regulations blocking hunters from using remote-control aircraft to locate big game, and the Board of Fisheries has now moved to prohibit commercial fishermen from using drones to spot schooling salmon.

The latest action came Sunday at the Fish Board meeting in Sitka. Board members shot down the use of drones for economic reasons.

Sitka public radio station KCAW reported that board member Reed Morisky was fearful drones could put some pilots out of business.

"I'm for keeping pilots employed and not using unmanned aircraft for fish spotting,'' the station reported him saying.

Board chairman Tom Kluberton agreed, according to KCAW, saying he tends "to look very hard at existing patterns of areas and fisheries, and I do like -- whenever possible -- to promote economic stability. We've had aircraft in this region for a long time. There are folks who stake their livelihoods and contribute to local economies flying their aircraft. I feel it's just an unnecessary move'' to allow drones.

Fish spotting with aircraft happens for only short periods in the Alaska summer, but it can be lucrative for the pilots involved. It can also be dangerous.

In April 1997, two Homer men were killed while spotting before the opening of the Prince William Sound herring fishery. Ron Gribble, 46, and passenger, Mike Paoli, 29, died when their Bellanca Citabria collided with a Cessna 185 over Galena Bay, about 15 miles south of Valdez.

The pilot of the other plane escaped injury.

The deaths of Gribble and Paoli came six years to the day after pilot Tom Parker was killed in a midair collision while spotting herring in the Sound.

Since those accidents, pilots have worked hard to improve communications between spotter aircraft.