Proposed new rules would be good for bowfishing, riverside residents [editorial] | Our Opinion

THE ISSUE: “The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission wants to crack down on problems caused by nighttime bowfishing, which has become extremely popular on the lower Susquehanna River in recent years,” outdoors writer PJ Reilly reported in the Sunday LNP | LancasterOnline. According to “agency officials, most complaints about bowfishing in Pennsylvania come from the South-Central Region, which includes Lancaster and York counties under the Fish and Boat Commission’s division of the state.” Reilly reported that the lower Susquehanna — particularly from Washington Boro north to Harrisburg — “is one of the most popular areas in Pennsylvania for bowfishing, and there are lots of homes and camps along the river in that stretch.”

We’ve always thought of fishing as a peaceful, almost contemplative, activity that allows us to enjoy nature while trying to catch dinner.

Nighttime bowfishing is a different kettle of fish, clearly.

Bowfishing is exactly what is sounds like: It’s hunting fish with a bow and arrow. (Under state law, bowfishing is limited to the taking of carp, suckers and catfish.)

As LNP | LancasterOnline outdoors columnist Ad Crable explained in a 2010 article, bowfishing is like “stalking a deer but it’s a fish. It’s like trying to land a big-game fish but with a bow rigged with a fishing reel.”

It’s an “amalgam of hunting and fishing” that some people find addictive, Crable noted.

It’s also become a headache for people who live in homes along the lower Susquehanna River.

“The biggest complaint law enforcement receives is the number of houses being lit up from this activity,” Col. Clyde Warner, director of the state Fish and Boat Commission’s Bureau of Law Enforcement, told PJ Reilly.

Another common complaint: excessive noise from the generators that power the special lights used for bowfishing.

As Reilly explained, “Boats specially outfitted for bowfishing have a series of lights mounted to the sides and front to illuminate the water around the boat where anglers shoot arrows at fish. To power those lights, boat operators often employ gas-powered generators, which can be noisy.”

Noise and light make for unpleasant nights.

If we lived in a home along the lower Susquehanna, we’d be annoyed by nighttime noise and lights, too. Especially if we had young children and/or dogs.

So we applaud the Fish and Boat Commission for granting preliminary approval to three new rules targeting bowfishing.

Reilly laid out the new rules under consideration:

— The first rule would make “bowfishing, spearing and gigging illegal on all special regulation trout waters, such as those classified as Catch and Release All Tackle, Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only and Trophy Trout All Tackle, among others.” (We admit that we read this first as “giggling,” and were momentarily confused.)

“In Lancaster County, those waters would be the Catch-and-Release, Fly-Fishing Only sections of Donegal Creek and West Branch Octoraro Creek.”

The aim of this rule, Reilly noted, would be to “minimize conflicts between bow angles and trout angles on waters designated especially for trout fishing.”

This makes sense.

— The second rule would prohibit the use of generators with a noise level that exceeds 90 decibels while bowfishing on boats.

Noise pollution can be unpleasant and disruptive, no matter where it comes from.

— The third proposed rule would declare, under the section of state law that addresses bowfishing gear, that it is unlawful to shine a light from any kind of watercraft directly on any occupied building or boat.

As Reilly pointed out, existing law already states that it’s illegal to use docking lights while underway, “except when docking and the boat is traveling at slow, no wake speed and is within 100 feet of approaching a dock, a mooring buoy or the shoreline .”

Under the law, he noted, a spotlight is defined as a “docking light.”

But the Fish and Boat Commission wants to highlight illegal light-shining under the section of rules relating to bowfishing.

“Ideally, boats with lights specially rigged for bowfishing only shine light downward,” Reilly explained. “But sometimes they cast light horizontally across the water.” And sometimes, “anglers simply shine spotlights on the areas where they are looking for fish.”

According to Reilly’s reporting, some commissioners are concerned that adding a new lights rule to bowfishing regulations could create the impression that shining lights on a house is legal as long as you aren’t bowfishing.

So the wording may need to be adjusted before a final vote, which could happen when the commissioners meet in late April.

The commissioners said they want to gather public comment on what’s proposed, and we think this is smart — and, frankly, should be part of any rule-writing process in government.

We imagine many homeowners who reside along the Susquehanna were drawn to riverfront living by its peaceful pleasures, and so are annoyed at having to deal with disruptions. We would be, too.

According to previous LNP | LancasterOnline reporting, bowfishing also has generated complaints because irresponsible bowfishers illegally dumped wounded fish along the river, leaving the fish to rot; responsible bowfishers complained, too.

We would hope that aren’t killed and then illegally dumped fish. We would hope that edible fish would be eaten, not wasted. If anglers want to bowfish, they should do it in a way that allows them to peacefully coexist with other people.

If bowfishing is to be done ethically, it needs to be regulated. Kudos to the state Fish and Boat Commission for seeking to tighten the rules.