How Bowfishing Helps the Environment

If you have any friends who go bowfishing, you probably know it's a fun, fast-paced sport. But did you know that bowfishing is also good for the environment? It might seem counterproductive to think about killing fish in order to help the environment, but bow fishermen actually play an important role in preserving natural fisheries. Keep reading to learn how bowfishing helps the environment.

Bowfishing Invasive LionFish

Controlling Invasive Fish Species

In general, bowfishing entails shooting fish that are mostly considered undesirable. This usually means fish species such as carp, gar, freshwater drum, catfish, and suckers. Gar and alligator gar are native fish species, so the positive effects on the environment are not as much as if you target something like the local carp species. 

Carp are largely considered to be one of the most destructive fish species to the ecosystem in the United States, and they are well known to cause a lot of harm to native fish populations by competing for food and other resources. Because of how destructive they are, there are usually no limits on these fish.

When you go bowfishing for a species like a carp, you are doing your part to help lessen the impact that they have on the environment. There are many bow fishermen that can easily load up an entire truckload of carp in a single bowfishing trip. Not only does this have a positive impact on the ecosystem, but archer-anglers also have fun while doing it!

Algae blooms can be caused by carp

How Carp and Other Species Hurt the Ecosystem

As we mentioned, carp are a non-native species that was introduced to the United States. They were first brought to US waters in the 1880s, and it turned out to be a large mistake as their numbers have absolutely exploded since then. For example, it is not uncommon to see a group of bow fishermen shoot hundreds or even thousands of pounds of carp on a night outing, and this literally doesn't even put a dent in the local carp problem. This helps illustrate just how serious this problem is. 

Carp have spread across the entire country, and these days there are very few areas with warmer waters where these fish cannot be found. Unfortunately, once carp are introduced to a new area, they are almost impossible to eliminate completely. 

Carp can negatively impact the environment by reducing water quality, damaging river banks, causing algae blooms, and eating all of the local aquatic vegetation that other fish rely on for food and shelter. Carp can very quickly take over an entire ecosystem in a short amount of time. Invasive carp have decimated other fish populations and haven even caused some species to go extinct in areas.  

Bow fishermen play a huge role in helping to control the populations of invasive fish like carp, and can usually catch, shoot, or kill as many as they want. And while not everyone eats or likes the taste of carp, simply extracting them out of the water is very beneficial to the ecosystem and overtime, archer-anglers can help control carp populations. 

 Bowfishing Carp

Environmental Benefits of Bowfishing

Bowfishing helps create healthier lakes, rivers, and ponds because it helps reduce the numbers of destructive fish that can negatively impact them such as the common carp, grass carp buffalo, and gar. In addition to the things we listed earlier, some of these fish also impact the environment by competing with game fish and destroying their spawning beds. 

By reducing the water quality, carp and other invasive species can also harm other organisms as well. For example, poor water quality can kill off species like native freshwater mussels. In turn, any other animals that rely on freshwater mussels will also be negatively impacted. The same could be said for almost any species in a certain area, as even the slightest imbalance in the ecosystem can cause stress and death in certain species of organisms, especially microorganisms. If a species like a carp is allowed to take over a waterway, they can even damage the local fish populations to the point of no return. 

Luckily we have bow fishermen to thank for helping to keep these problems under control. Culling destructive fish will contribute to the overall health of water systems in the long term. Many traditional anglers might look down upon bow fishermen, but in fact, they should be thanking them for helping preserve game species numbers. 

Of course, not all fish that bow fishermen target are invasive. For example, alligator gar has become a very popular bowfishing target, but they generally do not do any harm to the local environment. In fact, they actually help to control the spread of invasive species like carp by using them as a food source. This is why many areas will have a daily limit of gar in order to keep their populations healthy. 

Besides this, the money generated from things like fishing licenses, boat permits, and even taxes on fishing equipment can further be used to preserve environments and fund conservation efforts. Without these funds, all anglers could have much fewer waters to find fish in, and fish populations could suffer. The last thing we want is fewer fish to chase after, so why not support any way that helps, bowfishing included?

The Bottom Line: Bowfishing Helps the Environment and It's Fun, Too

Many people would argue that killing fish is not healthy for the environment. In most situations, they would be absolutely right. However, when it comes to the majority of the fish that are the primary targets for bowfishing, this is not the case! Taking these invasive and non-native fish species out of the ecosystem helps the overall health and longevity of that environment. Even if the fish are not eaten or used, the simple act of removing them helps to protect and preserve so much more in the long run that it is well worth the effort. Not to mention that bowfishing is a ton of fun as well!




TVA and TWRA introduced asian grass carp into Tennessee lakes to control milfoil. Now decades later there is very little grass or structure for fish and some lakes have nothing but mud bottoms. Great for TVA as a reservoir to help control flood and generate power but terrible for fishing.

Alex Waite

Alex Waite

This article is flat out false. It’s all about biomass. Carp will reproduce faster than bow fisherman can shoot them. Without introducing native suckers to fill the niche, the lake or stretch of river will always hold as many pounds of carp as the environment will allow. By targeting larger older carp, bow fisherman actually increase the overall numbers of individual fish in a system. Shoot a 20 pound carp, and it gets replaced by 10 two pound carp. Small fish damage the environment just as much as large fish. The European method is better. By valuing carp, they grow as few fish as possible, as large as possible in any given system. They cull the smaller or undesirable carp, and let the big trophy fish fill the biomass. The solution is simple. Length limits for bow fishing. At least where common carp are concerned. I’m not as familiar with the biology of other species, but it stands to reason the same would be true of any bottom feeding, minnow, sucker, or catfish species.



No I will not “thank bowfisherman” for filling up truck beds with 60 year old gar to preserve “game species”. Game fish are made up by society saying one fish is better than the other. I’d rather shoot bass and redfish all day instead of gar older than 90% of the people shooting them.



I do not disagree that bow fishing can be used to control common carp populations and help eradicate other more dangerous carp species such as Bighead Carp. What I disagree with is not regulating it, so it is done correctly. On lakes where the bow anglers report their common carp kills to the Fishery Biologist, a clearer understanding of what bow fishing does to carp populations has emerged. Because bow hunting for carp is not regulated, the hunters go after the largest common carp first. The results have shown over and over again that this hunting behavior causes the common carp population to switch from a much more healthier lower population of larger carp to one made up of numerous smaller carp that are harder for the bow anglers to kill. The biomass switches from fewer bigger carp to numerous smaller carp. The same thing has been observed by members of Carp Anglers Group. The body of water they would fish for trophy size common carp is transformed into one full of smaller size common carp. The trophy size carp they want to catch disappear, but their catch rates steadily go up as they catch more fish due to the carp population being much higher. For bow angling to work correctly, it must be regulated. The bow anglers should be killing only the smaller carp from the average size down to whatever is the smallest carp size they can hit. This will reduce the common carp population because it will allow the larger common carp to get bigger and help starve out smaller size common carp. In addition, female carp over twenty pounds have been proven in UK scientific studies to be territorial which means they defend the future of their offspring by eating the eggs of their rivals. Also, in other studies in the United States, it has been proven that common carp will start to eat their own eggs if the population is too high and puts a strain on their food supply. Carp regulate themselves if given a chance, especially the larger size females. In addition, the idea that common carp are all bad and not a vital part of the ecosystem is not true. Where there are Zebra Mussels, the Common Carp is one of the few species able to keep these extremely dangerous mussels in check else they would take over and completely destroy the ecosystem by sucking out all of the nutrients in the water. The water would be crystal clear, but no food would be available for the small fry of fish to eat. Only extremely carnivorous species such as gar would have a chance. Common Carp also do a very good job of cleaning debris from the bottom of ponds and lakes thus helping to prevent them from silting in and becoming shallower. Common carp eat the leaves in an attempt to get at the invertebrates living in the sediment. Common carp do displace certain sucker species, but they are not damaging the environment unless there are too many of them. Common carp do not eat up all the vegetation but actually cause more vegetation to form especially around the edges of lakes. What they do is eliminate some of the vegetation out in the middle of lakes and ponds which helps for boating activities. Else, some of these lakes would have to be sprayed to kill some of the plants leading to fish kills in order to allow boating activities. So, in conclusion, bow fishing can be helpful for reducing common carp populations, but only if the bow hunters go after the average to small size carp. The trophy size common carp especially those over twenty pounds should be left alone. This would push the common carp population to bigger and bigger carp, thus fewer and fewer carp. Carp anglers would have trophy size common carp to catch for carp tournaments and fun, the carp that would be left would be more useful for the environment and no longer a threat, and the ecosystem would be stable and healthy.

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