For decades, a group of anglers had been fishing with bows and arrows off the municipal pier at Imperial Beach, in the county of San Diego, California, bagging leopard sharks, corvina, and mullet. Threats of a bowfishing ban came and went, but the axe finally fell on June 24 when, after years of shrinking bowfishermen’s rights, the Imperial Beach City Council outlawed the practice.
“They don’t understand-this is our sport,” says angler Bill Herbert, who helped hold off the ban in the past. “The council thinks we’re out hunting surfers. If that’s the case, we’re not any good, because we’ve never hit anyone.”
Surfers and lifeguards have claimed for years that bowfishing was unsafe for people in the water. The resulting rivalry (surfers have tried to bite off Herbert’s line) slowly turned the City Council to the anti-bow side. At the final vote, councilwoman Mayda Winter said, “Lethal weapons cannot be mixed with water users and still guarantee safety.”
The perfect safety record among bowfishermen at Imperial Beach apparently doesn’t count. Neither does the fact that Imperial Beach archery anglers must take certification courses and fish during designated hours only. The California Department of Fish and Game’s 2003 regulations list bowfishing as a legal method of take, but local jurisdiction has precedence over state regulations, leaving the Imperial Beach legislators free to impose any ban they deem necessary.
Opportunities at other beaches are almost nonexistent, says bowfisherman Tom Wallis, a former Imperial Beach lifeguard. “So we’re not done fighting.”