Is 360-Imaging Fair Chase? Wisconsin Might Not Think So.

Is 360-Imaging Fair Chase? Wisconsin Might Not Think So.

In Wisconsin, a citizens’ resolution to ban LiveScope, 360-degree imaging, and similar electronics is garnering support. The resolution appeared in Wisconsin DNR’s annual spring hearing and public input questionnaire in April, asking, “Would you support banning the use of live scopes, and similar 360-degree imaging electronics in all Wisconsin waters?” Of the respondents, 6,786 said “yes,” and 6,290 said “no.” The ban won support in 36 counties, was opposed in 35, and tied in one. It appears likely that the initiative will advance to another hearing in spring of next year.

But will it actually result in a written policy change? MeatEater contributor Pat Durkin doesn’t think so. “My prediction is that this technology won’t be banned here,” he said. “That 52-48 margin and 50-50 county split tells the story. In fish and game politics, the tie goes to the status quo. If it can somehow be shown that all this technology is harming fisheries, we’ll likely adjust the bag limits accordingly. Folks seem far more willing to reduce the bag than they used to be.”

The resolution, as originally submitted, makes a large assumption that live-time imaging is negatively impacting the state’s fisheries. The proposal claims that “the advancements in fishing electronics” are “having an adverse effect on the state’s fish populations” but does not offer any evidence for this statement. There’s no doubt that electronics and advancements in fish-finder technology have resulted in more effective anglers, but whether they’ve impacted fisheries at a population-level is anything but certain.

But even if Wisconsin doesn’t move forward with a LiveScope Ban, the deeper question remains: just because we have something available at our fingertips, does that mean we should use it?

In 2018, MeatEater interviewed conservation pioneer Jim Posewitz for BHA (shortly before the stalwart’s death), posing the question, “How do you approach the concept of fair chase in the face of new technology?” Posewitz responded, “Fair chase depends on developing a personal association with the game you are pursuing. The more you appreciate the animals, the less likely you will engage in something that’s unfair.”

From an ethical perspective, Posewitz’s response is bang-on. It’s up to the individual to decide what to use or how to behave while afield. For one angler, that might mean only fly-fishing with dry flies; another angler might see no problem trolling cranks with sonar pinging in every direction. In the same vein, just because a daily bag limit exists doesn’t mean one has to max it out. In fact, if everyone hit their daily bag limits, there likely wouldn’t be a whole lot of fish left in the most heavily fished rivers or game in the most heavily hunted national forests.

LiveScope isn’t the only technology sportsmen are wrestling with. Nevada, Arizona, and Utah all have restrictions on the use of game cameras for hunting. Arizona’s restrictions are the most extreme, prohibiting all trail cameras for “taking or locating or aiding in the take of wildlife.” Utah took a slightly less restrictive approach but still bans all trail cameras on public land from July 31 to December 31.

Mark Kenyon weighed in on game cameras in a 2019 article. “For me, the fair chase question becomes most glaring when it comes to how real-time information from wireless cameras is used and the disproportionate advantage it gives hunters over game animals,” he wrote. “If a photo or video is sent and acted upon immediately, leading a hunter to know exactly where an animal is at a given moment, I sense that a line has been crossed. What chance does an animal have if its exact location is digitally transmitted and tracked? What skill does it require from a hunter other than checking a mobile app and shooting straight? This is where I’ve chosen to drag my stick through the sand.”

Similar to Posewitz’s approach, Kenyon notes that trail cam use is a gray area with room for personal ethics to guide one’s actions. But as broader guidelines, wildlife agencies already enact caliber restrictions, limits on bow draw weights, and restrictions on the number of rods an angler can have in the water—among countless other things. Is restricting fishing sonar too far? Or is it on par with similar fair-chase restrictions? If Wisconsin DNR’s survey is any indication, it’s a split ticket.

“We’ll keep arguing, of course, just like we do about recurves and compounds, but I’d be shocked if a ban goes any further than the shouting,” Durkin said.

Whatever happens in Wisconsin, the question offers a good reminder to think about what we’re doing while on the water or in the woods. Are we fishing for the enjoyment of it or to rake in fish for a tournament prize? Do we respect our quarry? Regulating fish-finder technology might be personal lines in the sand for now, but it could take on more concrete limits in coming years if wildlife agencies begin to weigh in—as the DNR could do in Wisconsin soon.

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