Bowfishers Control Invasive Species

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Josh Schnell holds a small gar he shot while making a video on bowfishing.

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 is going on. Like most outdoor pursuits, the answer is not singular. Bowfishers are having fun while removing rough fish from our waters.

First and foremost, bowfishers are out for a good time. They love combining archery and 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.

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.

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, we pay money to purchase a license to legally pursue these undesirable inhabitants; the funds from which go directly towards conservation. And then we are actually out on the water working to remove the carp. The government is spending untold amounts of money to study ways in which to eradicate the Asian carp. Bowfishers are already working on it.

If you’re a longtime bowfisher, then you already know that what you do out there on the water is good for conservation. Perhaps you have some friends though who have never thought of bowfishing in such a light. Do yourself and your sport a service. Spread the word. Tell the story of how bowfishing benefits the waterways we all enjoy. It’s not bragging. It’s just being truthful. Bowfishing is conservation.

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler


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