PRAIRIE DU CHEIN – The Bowfishing Association of America (BAA) became aware of potential issues with the 2015 World Tournament recently, via an Associated Press wire story titled “Bowfishing Tournament On Mississippi River Draws Complaints”.

This was the first that BAA had received any indication that complaints had followed the annual World Championship tournament held in Prairie du Chien, WI on July 26th  –  27th .  Each year the Bowfishing Association of America World Championship is hosted in a different location by a different BAA chapter/local club.

Following the AP article the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) issued a press release on August 27 regarding these complaints, and bringing further complaints and allegations to light.

Upon learning via the Associated Press article that complaints had been filed, BAA immediately contacted all agencies involved to begin a resolution process.  The complaints centered around three primary issues – the alleged failure to obtain necessary permits, alleged excessive noise from tournament participant boats, and alleged disturbing amounts of light related to the lighting set ups commonly used on bowfishing boats.

The tournament was held utilizing public waters in Grant, Crawford, Vernon and La Crosse counties only.  Launch /ramp sites were limited to Wisconsin public launches only. Participants were allowed on the Mississippi River pools 7, 8, 9, 10 &11 and the Wisconsin River.  As is the policy for large BAA tournaments encompassing multiple water bodies and multiple jurisdictions, “Red Zones” (areas not open to the tournament) were mapped and provided to tournament participants for reference.

Red Zones are determined by a number of factors, they can include, but are not limited to areas restricted by agencies such as Departments of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Services, Corps of Engineers, as well as areas determined by tournament organizers where potential conflict with residents or other public water users could occur. Campgrounds, shoreline housing developments, recreational areas etc. are often voluntarily included in these red zones to minimize any disturbance to others from tournament boat traffic and activities.  Despite these precautions, and the best efforts of BAA the Upper Mississippi River NWR office received complaints regarding noise and light issues from 7 individuals, all who were either in shore side campgrounds, cabins, or on houseboats.

According to Upper Mississippi River NWR Refuge Manager Sabrina Chandler the refuge had no proof or indication that tournament participants traveled into any unauthorized areas on the refuge, or that any of the complaints resulted from Red Zone areas. Chandler noted that areas within the refuge were closed to tournament participants as part of the general refuge regulations as they pertained to no motor zones, sensitive environmental areas, developed areas, etc.  Chandler reiterated that no indication or proof was available to substantiate the claims by PEER that tournament participants had violated the closed area regulations.

The second issue that BAA wishes to address is that of the allegations made by the AP article and PEER press release that proper permits were not obtained.

When tournament organizers consulted Wisconsin fishing tournament regulations it was determined that no Wisconsin permit was needed as the tournament was considered regional in nature.  According to Sabrina Chandler, Middle Mississippi NWR manager, the refuge  does not issue permits for refuge waters, but rather depends on their state partners to issue permits through their systems they have in place to help regulate crowding and resource concerns. Additionally, as allowable waters for the tournament included Mississippi in Pools 9 & 10; and Pool 9 is located in the waters of MN, WI & IA; Pool 10 is located in WI & IA, Iowa Department of Natural Resources determined following the complaints from PEER that a permit for a fishing tournament in the waters of Iowa was required.

This information was not readily made available to tournament organizers during the pre-tournament permitting process. According to BAA President, Andy Cardwell, it was honest mistake. Based on the Wisconsin tournament permit requirements, BAA was told that no Wisconsin permit was needed. No indication was given by Wisconsin DNR as to whether or not any additional permits were needed. BAA was unaware that by utilizing Iowa waters an additional permit was needed.  Historically in other areas when using multi jurisdictional waters the host state/location is the only permit required.

During discussions between BAA representatives and Iowa DNR it was noted that indeed BAA should have obtained an Iowa tournament permit. Currently Iowa DNR Law Enforcement Division has determined that a permit was indeed required in from Iowa – but it remains unclear if Iowa DNR will pursue the case.

While both the AP article and the PEER press release centered around the airboat participation, using language such as;  “Airboat Extreme Event”,   “high-decibel thrill ride”, “airboats with 700 to 1000 horsepower engines without mufflers”, “deafening high-octane light show”, “the Apocalypse Now of sport”, “loud airboats, powerful searchlights” . The reality of the situation was that in a field of 43 tournament boats participating, 15 were airboats.  The airboats were further restricted during the tournament by specific tournament and refuge regulations that prevented airboat access to sensitive areas.  BAA feels strongly that such inflammatory language was used to sensationalize the tournament and the use of airboats.

The BAA remains committed to its core values of conservation, education, ethical bowfishing, and promotion of the family oriented sport of bowfishing. BAA is actively working with regulatory agencies in an effort to not only resolve the complaints received and permitting issues, but to develop plans to review existing regulations to better address bowfishing specifically and prevent issues such as these form occurring in the future. “This has proven to be a learning experience for everyone involved. We look forward to continuing our positive working relationships with all involved agencies to prevent issues such as this from occurring in the future. “said Andy Cardwell, BAA President.

Bowfishing has shown phenomenal growth in popularity in the past two years. Historically the numbers of anglers choosing bow and arrow as their preferred method of fishing was relatively low in comparison to other methods. The recent growth explosion in popularity of bowfishing is bringing more and more anglers into areas and onto waters in search of rough and invasive fish to harvest. Because many regulations are only reviewed in ten and five year cycles, often times there simply are not regulations in place to specifically address bowfishing issues, or bowfishing tournaments. As agencies and regulatory bodies begin to develop these plans and address concerns Bowfishing Association of America will continue to work with the agencies to facilitate a better understanding of the sport, the formats of bowfishing tournaments vs typical bass, crappie, walleye etc. tournaments, and to secure a spot for continued growth and education related to bowfishing.

Logo courtesy Bowfishing Association of America

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  • David

    PEER is the same anti-everything-outdoors-related that’s been trying to shut down coyote hunting on the Mojave National Preserve….you know, Diane Feinstein’s 1 MILLION ACRE pet project in Socal. Most of these PEER folk wouldn’t know the difference between a carp and a striper, much less have ever fished (though they’ll dine in sushi restaurants, you betcha!) a day in their lives.

    Well done by the BAA to do everything by the book, and it would appear the participants did as well. Fastest way to call out these PEER schemers is by confronting them with the facts!