In this paper we review the history and development of bowfishing, provide a case study of a high-profile bowfishing tournament in Oklahoma, survey and summarize management of the sport in all 50 states, and provide scientifically-based approaches for its management. Bowfishing has a distinct niche in the evolution of the bow and arrow and in fishing, as one of several methods practiced by many and scattered indigenous cultures worldwide. In the past century, advances in technology, including the development of the compound bow, custom boat and lighting systems for night bowfishing, and improved information transfer have opened the sport to many people previously unable to participate in the sport at a satisfying level. Bowfishing poses some distinct challenges for fisheries managers compared to angling, including the impracticality of catch-and-release, non-catch (wounding) mortality, and by-catch mortality of non-targeted native species. In 2019, we conducted a survey of 50 state fish and wildlife agencies that indicated only nine states had bowfishing education programs and none had articulated management goals or plans specific to the sport. Evidence indicates that bowfishing may provide plentiful opportunities for harvesting nuisance invasive species such as Asian carps (Cyprinidae) and the Common Carp Cyprinus carpio, but must be practiced much more judiciously, and in some instances, not at all, depending on locality, for higher valued native species such as buffalofishes (Catostomidae: Ictiobus spp.), Paddlefish Polyodon spathula, gars (Lepisosteidae), and rays (Batoidea). Whereas in the terrestrial and avian species that bowhunters most commonly target, males reach a larger size than females, in fish species targeted by bowfishers, the opposite is the case. The result is selective depletion of large, older, mature females and evolutionarily disruptive truncation of life histories. We suggest ten of many potential topics for consideration in agency management planning for bowfisheries. We seek to provide agencies information for developing historical, ecological, and socioeconomic perspectives for managing bowfisheries, as other fisheries, as instruments of species conservation, public benefit, and sound long-term public policy.
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