Missouri’s prehistoric gar fish shouldn’t be wholesale slaughtered during this weekend’s big bowfishing tournament, according to a fish expert from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Solomon David, a fish ecologist who specializes in research on the toothy, armor-plated fish, recently learned of the World Bowfishing Championship sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, said Missouri gar are a native species that shouldn’t be lumped in with non-native invasive carp.
“I have no problem with them taking out invasive species like carp,” David said. But gar are a native species that have a valuable role as apex predators.
He said gar help keep other fish populations from overwhelming a lake — especially shad, which can reproduce in massive numbers.
“Bowfishing tournaments on a big scale can have an impact on the ecosystem if those apex predators are removed,” David said.
Saturday’s competition will bring 275 bowfishing teams to five area lakes where they’ll target common carp, grass carp, buffalo and gar, with prizes for the biggest haul and record fish.
Nearly all of the fish will be turned into organic fertilizer after the contest concludes.
“There is no catch-and-release in bowfishing,” David noted. “I think gar are better off playing a role in maintaining the ecosystem than as fertilizer.”
Martin Mac Donald, director of conservation at Bass Pro Shops, said the bowfishing championship is closely monitored by the Missouri Department of Conservation staff and MDC continues to be a partner in the event.
He emphasized that because of their smaller size only a small number of gar are actually taken during the tournament. Of the 16 tons of fish killed during last year’s bowfishing competition, gar made up less than 300 pounds of the haul, he said.
“MDC is one of the best departments of conservation in the US, with a great fisheries division,” Mac Donald said. They monitor all fish that are regulated, and gar is a regulated fish by MDC.
“At this point there’s no concerns relative to gar. MDC will monitor those populations, going forward, and if they need to change their regulations they have a way to do that.”
The Missouri Department of Conservation classifies gar as nongame fish and allows bowfishermen to take up to 20 gar a day, with a possession limit of 40 fish. The Shedd Aquarium researcher applauded Missouri for having some rules on the taking of gar because many states allow an unlimited haul of “rough fish.”
AJ Pratt, MDC’s Regional Fisheries Supervisor, said the conservation department is watching how bowfishing might impact gar populations in the state.
“At this point we don’t believe bowfishing is a negative impact on fish,” Pratt said Friday. “But in the future, if the sport of bowfishing is to take off and explode, maybe we’ll look at it a little differently. We certainly don’t want to eliminate them (gar). It’s something we’ll keep an eye on on and if we see some significant impact we’ll look at our regulations.”
If gar numbers begin to fall, the possession limit could be reduced.
Pratt said he doesn’t want to see people killing gar for no reason, and said gar are edible. In fact, MDC staff are at Bass Pro’s Bowfishing Fair today (Friday) showing people how to clean and cook not only carp but gar, Pratt said.