Bowfishing For Conservation

Removing non-native species benefits threatened waterways

Bowfishers often target non-native fish, like Asian Carp that need to be removed from our waterways.
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Conservationists come in many forms. Scientists who study fish and wildlife are conservationists. Children who pick up litter are conservationists. Hunters who selectively harvest animals are conservationists.  And bowfishers who commonly target invasive species of fish are conservationists. 

Conservation may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you see a boat cruising around carrying a bunch of people outfitted with archery equipment. As each arrow is launched into the water, some may wonder what the point is. Like most outdoor pursuits, the answer is not singular. 

First and foremost, bowfishers are out for a good time. They love archery, and many love fishing. Having an outdoor opportunity that combines two favorite pastimes is so gratifying that sometimes bowfishers can hardly believe it exists. But bowfishing is very real and is rapidly growing in popularity. 

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“I enjoy bowfishing because I enjoy archery and fishing. It would be impossible to find a better way to combine two of my favorite pastimes,” said Nathan Sizemore, a self-described bowfishing addict.

Aside from the obvious fun of bowfishing, the sport accomplishes a number of other things, including the reduction of undesirable and invasive species of fish. 

“Bowfishing is a popular method for taking many nongame fish, and can be a highly effective way to harvest some nongame fish that can be difficult to catch otherwise,” said Andrew Branson, a fisheries biologist.

Rough fish, or trash fish, have their place in some ecosystems. They do clean some of the bottom debris, and a common carp here or there isn’t going to do too much damage to a fishery. However, when the population of common carp becomes significantly too high the sport fish population will suffer. Carp destroy nesting areas and will devour the eggs of game fish. Too many gar will also hurt the population of game fish. As for Asian carp, they are completely undesirable and all need to go away. 

Asian carp (black, silver, grass and bighead) were brought to America by fish farmers to clean algae in their tanks. They were also used to clean sewage treatment plants. Once they found their way into rivers and lakes by accidental escape and purposeful planting, Asian carp quickly became a problem. Now they are decimating fisheries throughout the central United States, and are threatening to devastate the Great Lakes.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “As large populations of Asian carp become established, cumulative effects of those species include risk to human safety, reductions of native plants that provide spawning and nursery areas for fishes, reduced food for native fishes and waterfowl, and reductions in dollars for regional economies that rely on  fishing, boating, and waterfowl hunting.”

Bowfishers are targeting these fish and taking them out of our rivers and lakes, and are acting as conservationists in duality. First of all, bowfishers pay money to purchase a license to legally pursue these undesirable inhabitants; the funds from which go directly towards conservation. And then they are actually out on the water working to remove the rough fish. The government is spending untold amounts of money to study ways in which to eradicate the Asian carp. Bowfishers are helping.

“Bowfishers can play an important role in reducing the numbers of invasive carp,” Branson said.

Bowfishing tournaments are also a really important aspect to increasing the popularity of the sport. As regular bowfishers participate in tournaments, they bring awareness to their friends who may have an interest in taking part in one of the many team tournaments that take place frequently across the country. 

“Bowfishing tournaments are typically full of action. If you want to win, you just can’t sit around waiting for fish. You have to hunt them. You can troll the banks for big grassies and buffalo, or fire up the big motor and make the silvers fly. It’s not uncommon to have a sore arm after a tournament from shooting so many arrows,” Sizemore said.

Some non-bowfishers question the sport because of the possibility of wanton waste. They think bowfishers are just out shooting fish and then dumping them back in the water. For the most part, this is not the truth. Most bowfishers find ways to use the fish they shoot, whether that is by eating the fish themselves or donating them to a cause that sees the fish are used. Many bowfishers have developed rough fish recipes that are surprisingly tasty. 

At the end of the day, bowfishing is another outdoor pursuit that both serves as a recreational pastime and a conservation initiative. Bowfishers are stewards of our waterways.   

See you down the trail…

For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on www.driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed.

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Brandon Butler
Long-time outdoor writer and native Hoosier Brandon Butler lives in Missouri and serves as the Executive Director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. Previously, he worked with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as Governor Mitch Daniels’ liaison to the department, Director of Sales and Marketing for Dominator365 and as the Marketing Manager Battenfeld Technologies, Inc.

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