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Officials tabled a proposed rule to prohibit the use of drones and remote-control devices to catch fish in Montana at a virtual meeting this week.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to direct the proposed rule banning use of drones or remote-controlled devices to fish back to the department for further review. Some commissioners said they were leery about the ban’s purpose.

The proposed rule targeted drone attachments and small remote-controlled boats designed to scout, hook and land fish in spots anglers wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.

Technological advancements have allowed anglers to use drones to film fish from above, transport lines across long distances and drop bait. Miniature remote-controlled boats can now film fish underwater, transport lines and bait and land fish.

The devices have become increasingly common in other states, according to Phil Kilbreath of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Enforcement Division.

Kilbreath asked the commission to consider banning the use of drones and remote-controlled devices to fish after he gave a presentation on the issue in June. He said at the time that calls to his division about the legal status of such devices have increased.

Most commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting worried that approving the ban would be addressing a problem that doesn’t yet exist in the state. Commissioner KC Walsh moved to table the proposed ban “until the department provides a more wholesome review of the language.”

Before commissioners voted on Walsh’s motion, Commissioner Pat Byorth said he didn’t disagree with the motion. However, he did take issue with “the presumption that the previous commission didn’t do their homework.”

The intent of the rule was to ensure anglers were abiding by the state’s fair chase ethic, Byorth said.

It is illegal to use a drone to track, film or harass animals while hunting in Montana. Though state law already prohibits using guns, traps or another device to capture fish, it does not specify whether drones are considered “other devices.”

Walsh said he needed more information on the challenges other states have faced from such devices used for fishing to make a final decision.

“I really don’t like to pass rules for things that aren’t solving problems,” said Commissioner Pat Tabor.

David Brooks of Montana Trout Unlimited said the group supports the commission’s decision to consider the issue further. However, he believes the rule should ultimately be adopted because of fair chase principles.

“This is forward looking and it should be,” Brooks said. “The rule meets the precautionary principle that we will be proactive and address issues before they cause harm.”

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