Big Bow Fishing Tourney on Mississippi Leaves Disturbed Wake

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Big Bow Fishing Tourney on Mississippi Leaves Disturbed Wake

“Airboat Extreme” Event Unauthorized on Refuge; Spawns Waves of Complaints

Washington, DC — Bow fishing, the fastest-growing extreme sport in the U.S., has no place on a national wildlife refuge, according to a complaint jointly filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Friends of Effigy Mounds. The “World Bowfishing Tournament” held in late July on the Upper Mississippi River has drawn both citizen complaints and an enforcement review by a state fish and game agency as well as a call for new federal prohibitions.

Bow fishing is a combination of hunting and fishing which transforms the normally quiet pastime of fishing into a high-decibel thrill ride. The modern incarnation involves teams in airboats with 700 to 1000 horsepower engines without mufflers making a loud and fast platform for chasing down fish. Bow fishing tournaments usually take place at night, with suspended banks of powerful LED lights to illuminate the water column and the fish within, lighting up the night sky.

On July 26-27, Cabela’s corporation, a hunting, fishing and camping supplies retailer, hosted a large bow fishing tournament on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The tournament had a permit from Wisconsin, but much of the activity occurred in Iowa waters without a permit, thus prompting Iowa Natural Resource Commission Secretary Richard (Kim) Francisco to say in an email that “this unpermitted tournament…has been turned over for investigation to the Law Enforcement Bureau.”

The tournament also violated national wildlife refuge rules prohibiting “disturbing other visitors by the inconsiderate operation or use of any …power equipment, or lighting devices,” as well as rules requiring:

  • Advance notice to the refuge; and
  • No “combustion engine driven watercraft in sensitive backwater areas” as well as low speed limits and no-wake zones in sensitive areas.

“This tournament turned night into day and blasted our ear drums like we were on an airport runway,” stated Tim Mason of Friends of Effigy Mounds who lives with his wife on a houseboat near the refuge. “To my surprise, the refuge decided not to enforce its own rules, thus allowing an activity that was clearly incompatible to dominate the entire refuge for the better part of a week.”

Mason contacted Refuge Manager Sabrina Chandler to learn why she allowed the refuge compatibility rules for fishing tournaments to be flouted. Although she did admit receiving complaints, she did not offer a coherent explanation for not acting on them. She did, however, indicate that the 2006 fishing tournament compatibility rules would be updated but offered no specifics. As a result, Mason and PEER today filed a formal complaint with her regional director asking him to examine what took place, review the preparedness of other refuges in the region and take steps to ensure that the episode is not repeated.

Ironically, because bow fishing tournaments target invasive, as opposed to native game fish, promoters tout the conservation benefits of the sport. That supposed eco-benefit, however, ignores the deafening high-octane light show with churning pursuits across both water and low-lying tracts.

“This is the Apocalypse Now of sport and should not be allowed on a wildlife refuge,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Removing invasive fish could also be accomplished by dynamiting the river but no one suggests that is a good idea.”


Read the complaint

See the email from Iowa NRC Commissioner

Look at response from Upper Mississippi Refuge Manager

View “Airboat Extreme” in action

Phone: 202-265-7337

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