Controversy has erupted over the Baird government's decision to allow a trial of the popular US-style hunting activity known as bow fishing in an effort to curb the population of the noxious carp fish.
Academics, environmental groups and politicians have voiced their opposition to the trial, sending submissions to the government warning that native and threatened species including the platypus could end up as "collateral damage".
The Department of Primary Industries announced last November it would allow the trial in inland waters to target the overpopulation of carp which are a well-known pest because of their destructive bottom-feeding habits.
A government fact sheet described the trial as an activity targeting carp using archery from river banks or a boat. It said that it was legal in South Australia and carp bow fishing tournaments were regularly staged in North America, attracting hundreds of competitors.
The 18-month trial includes sections of rivers, creeks and streams in the Riverina, Central West, North West and Murray regions.
Ecologists Dr Tom Grant from the University of NSW and Professor David Goldney from Charles Sturt University have expressed concerns about the difficulty in distinguishing carp from wildlife or native fish species, especially in turbid waters.
Dr Grant is concerned that wildlife such as the platypus, the native water rat, the water dragon, turtles and diving birds could be mistaken for carp.
"There are a lot of native species that could end up as 'by-catch' or 'collateral damage'," Dr Grant said. It was unlikely that hunter/fishers would report accidental kills, he said.
Professor Goldney said that "thinking Australians are likely to be appalled and perplexed by this proposal, more so since it will be predominantly a self-regulated activity, with the eventual success of the trial to be judged on the feedback from the participants."
However, DPI Game Licensing Unit director Dr Andrew Moriarty said something needed to be done to reduce carp numbers.
"Carp are an introduced freshwater species that have been declared a noxious fish in NSW and this pest species can have a significant impact on freshwater ecosystems," he said.
Dr Moriarty said at the end of the trial, bow hunters will be asked to give information on effort, catch and expenditure.
Australian Bow Hunters Association vice-president Mark Burrows said the advantage of the trial was that it was a "target specific" practice.
"Carp is a pest and other ways of killing it, like poisoning or electro-shock is non selective, so it kills all fish. This way we're shooting just carp."
Bow hunters will need a restricted licence and to sit a written test.
They will also need to apply for a permit 48 hours beforehand and to report back how many carp were seen and shot.
The CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW Kate Smolski said "If you accidentally hook an undersized fish or protected species line fishing, you can release it, but what happens when it is shot with an arrow? Spear guns are banned in freshwater environments, and bows should be too."
Greens MP David Shoebridge said that "killing fish with bows and arrows is about as stupid and pointlessly dangerous as it sounds.
"This will have no impact on the overall number of carp in our inland waterways and is clearly being put forward as some new 'sport' not as a serious control measure."
WIRES chief executive Leanne Taylor believes they "only see a fraction of the animals that have been shot with arrows as they generally die a slow and painful death from infection or exposure to heat or cold, often with the arrow still in them."
Director of the Australian Platypus Conservancy, Geoff Williams, said there were many circumstances where even trained observers struggled to accurately distinguish a platypus or an Australian water-rat from a carp, while in the water.
"Given that there is considerable evidence to suggest that physical removal of limited numbers of carp has little or no long-term impact on carp populations, it is difficult to believe how bow fishing could under any circumstances be touted as making a significant contribution to reducing carp infestations."
Mr Williams acknowledged that the trial is limited to waterways that do not generally support platypus, but said most of the selected catchments do support Australian water-rats, "a species which appears to be in decline in many inland areas."