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Bowfishing -- shooting fish with bows and arrows tethered to a line -- isn't allowed by the city of Minnetonka without a special permit.
Excelsior doesn't have a bowfishing law; the city thinks its jurisdiction is limited to what happens on land.
The problem is that those two cities -- and 12 others along Lake Minnetonka's shoreline -- have a mishmash of rules, or in some cases none at all, about the sport, creating confusion about what's allowed on the lake or the shoreline.
"For those who want to bowfish, it's hard to tell them what they can and cannot do," said Greg Nybeck, executive director of the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District. "The cities are all over the board on this."
The conservation district asked for feedback from cities this summer and is trying to come up with a common ordinance to clarify the rules of bowfishing for all communities around the lake. The district's public safety committee is expected to have a draft ordinance ready later this month.
With bowfishers often standing on platforms on boats and using menacing-looking bows, the sport has raised some concerns about safety. Minnetonka, for example, has said its police force would need to be comfortable with the new rules before the city agrees to them.
The ordinance is likely to allow bowfishing on open water in summer, Nybeck said, but would require a 300-foot setback from swimming beaches or swimmers. It may also set nighttime limits of two hours after sunset and one hour before sunrise.
Brian Petschl, past president of the Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association, said it makes sense to have a common ordinance, as long as restrictions don't go too far.
"The idea that the sport is not safe is really just a misconception," he said. "You're taking an arrow and shooting it into the water. There's no way you can have a deflection off the water, and most of the shots are within 5 or 10 yards."
Bowfishing has long been allowed by state law, subject to local firearms and archery ordinances. Its popularity received a boost three years ago when the Legislature allowed night bowfishing, as long as the hunter-anglers and their bright lights stay at least 150 feet from homes and 300 feet from campsites.
Petschl estimated there are a "few thousand" bowfishers in Minnesota. Petschl said it combines the skills of hunting and fishing into one sport and is attracting a younger set because bowfishing has plenty of excitement and action.
It is illegal for bowfishers to shoot game fish in Minnesota, Petschl said. Those who aim their weapons into the shallows, often illuminated by flood lamps, are targeting carp, bullheads, suckers, dogfish and other rough fish, he said. The sport is for a good cause, Petschl said, since those species are unwelcome in many lakes and rivers.
The majority of bowfishing happens in May or June when the fish are spawning, he said.
The arrows are tipped with broadheads designed to open after they pierce a fish, making them easier to haul in. Sportsmen may not leave dead fish on shore. Petschl said larger ones are usually given to farmers for fertilizer. Some of the smaller fish are smoked and eaten, he said.
Patchwork of rules
Some communities prohibit bowfishing or allow it only with a permit.
"We have a weapons ordinance that you can't discharge a weapon in the city without a permit, and a bow and arrow is considered a weapon," said Desyl Peterson, attorney for the city of Minnetonka. The ordinance applies not only to shoreline, she said, but also to portions of the lake that are within the city's boundaries.
Other cities have no rules about bowfishing, either because they have little shoreline and no bowfishers or because they view all lake-related activity as outside their authority.
"We've always been kind of under the impression that our jurisdiction in terms of regulations stops on land, because we don't have police that go out on the water," said Kristi Luger, Excelsior's city manager.
The Hennepin County Sheriff's Water Patrol and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources enforce state laws. But the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District is considering whether authorities should also have a local ordinance to enforce that would be somewhat more restrictive, yet uniform, to reduce confusion.
No blank check
Paul Falls, director of public safety for Minnetrista, said his city on the western side of Lake Minnetonka also has no ordinance that prohibits or governs bowfishing.
Falls said discussion of a lakewide ordinance is not happening because bowfishing is a problem, but because there's confusion. "Consistency is really the goal," he said. "It's just really trying to get a common message out there."
Peterson said Minnetonka would need to amend its ordinance to allow bowfishing on the lake if the district moves forward. "There's some merit to doing a lakewide ordinance, but we're not going to give them a blank check," she said. City police and other officials would need to be comfortable with any new rules, she said.
Nybeck said the district, which includes representatives from each of the Minnetonka communities, will discuss a proposed ordinance on Sept. 26 and then seek additional feedback from mayors, city councils and other local officials.
"At this point, it's still exploratory and we're going to see where it may go," he said.
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388