Perhaps you have thought to buy a bowfishing bow and get started with the sport, but you worry that it might not be ethical or even cruel. Does this have any basis in reality? We will have a look at the different aspects of bowfishing and whether it should be viewed as ethical or cruel.
Is bowfishing ethical/cruel? Bowfishing is as ethical as regular fishing. Even when you practice catch and release, you will still have some fish that die upon release. That doesn’t mean that fishing or bowfishing is cruel. This sport has been practiced for thousands of years.
Why Bowfishing isn’t Cruel
Bowfishing isn’t cruel because it does the same thing as regular fishing. You shoot the fish, take them home and eat them. To imply that bowfishing is less ethical simply because it kills the fish doesn’t mean that catch-and-release fisherman are any better. In fact, fish that are caught with catch and release can die just as easily if they swallow the hook, and if a fisherman releases them back into the water, that fish will die.
I like bowfishing, and I eat the fish that I have shot. That said, it isn’t always possible to eat a lot of the fish that we shoot because on some rivers, we act more as environmental stewards. We cut down on the invasive Asian carp populations that have wreaked untold damages on our ecosystem.
This isn’t a cruel practice even when we can’t eat the fish. In some cases, the river has too much pollution to eat what you shoot. It’d be unhealthy for you to eat above a certain number of carp from that river. That said, I will often turn dead carp into a type of healthy compost for the garden. If you’d like to learn more on that, check out my article on that here.
Should You Do Bowfishing?
I will tell you with 100-percent confidence that you should do bowfishing. I say that because bowfishing has zero difference to other types of fishing, especially when you eat what you kill. This isn’t unethical. We eat meat all the time. What is the difference with bowfishing?
Bowfishing puts us out in nature and on the water to appreciate nature to the fullest. We need more people who love being out and around nature. I often tell the people that I bowfish with that the ultimate joy comes from being out in nature and having the memories. What you shoot can be a lot of fun, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that matters when you go bowfishing.
Good for the Environment
Many times, us bowfishermen don’t receive enough credit. Sure, you have the types that act poorly, but you have the same issues with fishing. Most of us respect the environment. In fact, if you’d like to learn about how good bowfishing is for the environment, check out an article I wrote a couple of months ago on the subject right here.
What are the Objections to Bowfishing?
The biggest objection to the ethics of bowfishing comes from how it kills the fish. On that basis, it doesn’t have any difference to fishing. We need to cull the herd of harmful invasive species like the carp because if we don’t, these fish will harm our aquatic systems. Native fish populations could get displaced, and it could dramatically change our environment. We must take action now.
Catch-and-release tactics shouldn’t be seen as a higher moral ground because it can still harm the fish. Granted, the fish have a higher chance of surviving than with bowfishing, but this sport has many similarities to when you spear fish. That doesn’t make it unethical.
The other objection comes from bowfishermen who have given the rest of us a bad name. For example, they will dispose of carp right at the boat landing so that they right there. Let me be clear: This is not a problem with bowfishermen. It’s a problem with people having no respect for others. That shouldn’t lump all of us together because most bowfishermen don’t do this. You can find people even in regular fishing who do this. It’s not a matter of the sport, it’s a matter of a lack of respect.
No More Cruel Than Regular Fishing
The fact that some people think of bowfishing as more cruel than other fishing blows my mind. Don’t you fry up fish in your pan with regular fishing as well?
The one legitimate argument that could be made is that we kill the carp without eating them. That said, you have to paint the whole picture. We do this because carp tend to be a polluted fish, and they’re invasive. They could displace our native fish populations unless we take action to stop them.
Some might argue that when we put an arrow through them, that is cruel, but in truth, it’s no more cruel or unethical than spear fishing or shooting a deer with a bow and arrow. If you don’t like bowfishing, don’t do it. That said, you don’t have a right to tell anyone not to do it. This is a legitimate sport like any other, and we have a right to do it.
A lot of us use the fish that we eat with certain recipes. If you’re not sure about how to fillet a carp, check out my article here on it. There’s also a great carp recipe that you may want to check out.
Why We Love Bowfishing
Anyone who has ever done bowfishing will tell you how it isn’t an easy sport. With the first 50 shots, you will most likely miss them all. This makes the game between you and the fish more than fair and ethical. Sometimes we walk away having shot nothing but water, and other times, we have shot 10 to 15 carp per person.
This sport offers a lot of fast-paced action that reels you in from the moment you start shooting arrows at the carp.
Is Fishing Morally Wrong?
To understand if bowfishing is unethical, we should first have a look at fishing as a whole. The sport uses a hook to put in a fish’s mouth and bring him to a world where he can’t breathe. I can see their point up to a degree on the cruelty of it. That said, scientists have proven how fish don’t have the neurophysiological capacity to have a hook in their mouth and feel pain because of it. Neurobiologists have proven with concrete evidence that fish can’t feel pain, yet the debate over its moral standing rages on.
Let’s clarify that fish do feel pain, but they experience the sensation different from how humans feel it.
When you examine fish, they lack a neocortex, which raises doubts that they can even feel pain. Fish may not even perceive an arrow piercing them as painful. That is why I believe that when you go out in a boat with a bow and release an arrow that pierces the gills of a fish, I don’t see that as unethical because of how fish don’t experience pain in the same way that we do. You can argue this if you like, but scientists have proven it.
Argument That You Will Never Win
Honestly, I don’t even bother convincing anyone that bowfishing is ethical. If a person chooses to see bowfishing as unethical, they have adopted a persona (i.e. militant vegetarians and militant vegans) to where nothing you say will convince them otherwise. Don’t even open your mouth to subtract a breath. Keep on a bowfishing!
I have a strong belief that for individuals who believe it as unethical, they can choose not to do it. I respect that type of person who follows their own values. That said, forcing your beliefs on others to where you think no one can fish or bowfish because you think of it as unethical only shines a negative spotlight on you.
I grew up bowfishing and fishing, and I bonded with nature and family while in the boat and waiting for the bite action on the line. Maybe that’s why I choose to view bowfishing and fishing as ethical, but like with vegans and vegatarians, you won’t convince me of it as an unethical sport. Sorry, but it’s not going to happen.
For many of us, hunting and fishing and bowfishing bring us closer to nature. The aquatic fragrance of the water and the scent of the fish caught, the enchanting call of a loon in the distant waters, the sight of the American bald eagle perched in the overhanging tree and the zealous beaver fast at work on his dam. You have nothing to compare to the experience of putting a boat on a lake or river and going bowfishing.