Interest in bowfishing — using a bow and arrow to shoot rough fish — has grown in Minnesota in recent years, and changes made by the Legislature in the just-concluded session will allow more opportunities.

Bowfishing enthusiasts now will be able to shoot rough fish year-round, with some important exceptions. The goal was to increase opportunities while still protecting game fish spawning areas.

The Game and Fish Bill approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton last week sets the regular bowfishing season from the last Saturday in April to the last Sunday in February. It also creates an early bow season south of Hwy. 210 for the rest of the year. But during that early season, people can bowfish only from a boat and only while on a lake or on the Mississippi, Minnesota or St. Croix rivers.

“They can’t bowfish in creeks, streams or tributaries,” to protect game fish spawning there, said Brian Petschl of Blaine, president of the Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association, a statewide group with about 160 members. “This was a compromise, and still allows bowfishers to shoot rough fish year round.”

Neighboring states offer year-round bowfishing, he said, and his group worked with the DNR to expand Minnesota’s opportunities.

Said Ed Boggess, Department of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Division director: “It’s something we can live with. We think it will work out.”

Petschl estimated about 10,000 people now bowfish yearly. “The sport is really growing,’’ he said.

Bowfishers can kill only rough fish, and about 80 percent of the kill is carp, Petschl said. Dogfish, buffalo fish, bullheads and suckers also are targeted. One of the biggest issues is that some bowfishers illegally dispose of their fish on lakeshores, and Petschl said it’s imperative they properly dispose of their fish. He eats any gar he shoots and gives his carp to a local farmer, who uses them as fertilizer.

“Before you shoot fish, take the time to figure out how to dispose of them,” Petschl advised.

License sales still down

The late ice-out on northern Minnesota’s lakes and the mostly rainy, cold spring continues to hurt Minnesota fishing license sales.

Anglers bought only 394,000 licenses through Friday, 137,000 fewer than this time last year, a 25 percent decline. At $22 for an individual resident license, that’s a loss of about $3 million to the DNR.

Typically the DNR sells about 60 percent of its fishing licenses by July 4.

“If this trend continues and sales don’t recover, it would be a significant hit to the game and fish fund,” Boggess said. “We hope the weather improves; it’s our fervent hope we get some sales improvement this summer.”