Hunting with Drones

(Photo from Creative Commons)

The use of drones to hunt or pursue wildlife is prohibited in California. (Photo from Creative Commons)

Question: What laws apply to big game hunting with camera equipped, radio controlled, drone aircraft? (Terry B.)

Answer: The use of drones to hunt or pursue wildlife is prohibited in California.

“No person shall pursue, drive, herd, or take any bird or mammal from any type of motor-driven air or land vehicles, motorboat, airboat, sailboat, or snowmobile. Additionally, no person shall use any motorized, hot-air, or unpowered aircraft or other device capable of flight or any earth orbiting imaging device to locate or assist in locating big game mammals beginning 48 hours before and continuing until 48 hours after any big game hunting season in the same area” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 251(a)).

The pursuit of birds and mammals by the use of any “motorized water, land or air vehicle” to “pursue, drive or herd any bird or mammal” is also prohibited, with limited exceptions that do not include hunting (Fish and Game Code, section 3003.5). (159)


Transporting legal black bass to my home?
Question: Is it permissible to catch a legal black bass, keep it alive while fishing, and then transport it alive to one’s home? (Jim E.)

Answer: While on the water, you can keep the black bass alive either in your live well on the boat or on a stringer in the water from where it was taken. However, you cannot then transport a live fish away from the waters where taken. Once you leave the water, all fish that you are taking with you must be dead (CCR Title 14, section 1.63).


Replacing abalone back to same rock?
Question: If an abalone diver takes a legal-sized abalone, is it legal for him to return it to the same rock if he does not remove more than three abalone during the day? I know some divers that will dive for several hours and may “pop” one to three abalones without damaging them, and keep none of them, returning all of them to the rocks where they were removed. I don’t think there is anything, technically, in the laws that prevents this, but maybe there should be. (Anonymous)

Answer: There is a law prohibiting this both for the health of the abalone and to prevent high-grading. All legal-sized abalone detached must be retained by the person who detaches it. In addition, no undersize abalone may be retained in any person’s possession or under his control. Undersize abalone must be replaced immediately to the same surface of the rock from which detached. (FGC section 29.15[d]).

No person shall take more than 18 abalone during a calendar year (FGC section 29.15[c]). If the diver takes three legal-sized abalone and puts them back, those abalone still count toward both the diver’s daily and yearly limit. This means that divers must still record those abalone on their report card so as to not exceed their yearly limit.

If a wildlife officer sees someone take a large abalone that is obviously larger than seven inches and the person puts the abalone back, this person has just violated section 29.15(d). If that person then doesn’t record the abalone, he is guilty of failing to complete the Abalone Report Card as required. Wildlife officers on the north coast have written several citations for this, usually to trophy hunters looking for that elusive 10-inch abalone. Wildlife officers try to convince people hunting for trophy abalone to measure them before removing them from rocks.


Turtles from pet stores
Question: I know it’s against the law for pet stores to sell baby turtles, as they can carry salmonella and other dangerous bacteria, plus children can swallow and choke on them. The other day I saw something in my local pet store that confused me. The store was offering a free baby turtle with the purchase of their turtle habitat setup – aquarium, gravel, filter, etc. Technically, they weren’t selling baby turtles, but doesn’t this circumvent the intent of the law, which is to protect public health? (Ed R.)

Answer: What you describe wouldn’t violate any California Fish and Game Code or its implementing regulations but would most likely violate federal and state laws designed to protect public health. Turtles are required to have a carapace (shell) length of at least 4 inches to be imported, sold or distributed (CCR Title 17, section 2612.1). This restriction was brought into effect under the Public Health Services Act by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1975 to address the problem of Salmonella infections in children. I have heard this size was determined to help prevent children from putting these small reptiles into their mouths. Prior to the ban there were an estimated 250,000 cases of turtle Salmonellosis in children and infants that were associated with pet turtles in the United States (Source: http://exoticpets.about.com/od/reptilesturtles/a/turtlesales.htm.)

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

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