LOOK: Minnesota Angler Lands Incredible ‘One in a Hundred Lifetimes’ Golden Bowfin

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: Willard

A Minnesota fisherman recently reeled in a rare, mysterious golden bowfin. As a result, he’s sparked a debate on social media regarding the ethics of the once-in-a-lifetime catch.

For instance, Solomon David, an aquatic ecologist and assistant professor at Nicholls State University and Principle Investigator at GarLab, is raising concerns about the rare catch.

“I’ve never seen this kind of golden Bowfin in person or in photos. It’s extremely rare,” he said. “Bowfin are a type of freshwater fish native to North America,” David said.

He added: “The species is relatively common in slow-moving, vegetated waters of the eastern and southern United States—they range from southern Canada down to Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.

“The fish that was shot by the bowfisher is not a rare species in Minnesota, but it is a very rare genetic variant of the species—what we call a “xanthic” morph. It has a genetic mutation called xanthochromism, where certain pigments in the animal are replaced with yellow pigments. This condition results in the yellow/gold color of the animal.”

According to experts, Xanthochromism is an unusual genetic variant that causes the animal to have an excess of yellow pigment or possibly a loss of darker pigments. As a result, they appear golden. However, you’ll never find this genetic variation in mammals as it’s only found in fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds.

“These individuals seldom reach adulthood because they stand out to predators,” he said. “The fact that this was an adult ‘gold’ bowfin makes it even rarer, it was able to evade natural predators and beat the odds up to the point it was shot by the bowfisher.”

Aquatic ecologist and professor raises ethical questions regarding rare bowfin

In addition, bow fishing is immediately fatal to the caught fish, unlike traditional rod and reel fishing.

“Bowfishing is a rapidly growing sport that unfortunately often targets ‘non-game’ native species, like this Bowfin,” David said. “Oftentimes, there is unlimited harvest allowed, and the fish are not always eaten. They’re often turned into fertilizer or dumped in the trash.”

David goes on to discuss why this is an issue. “Conservation of native freshwater fish is important, even non-game species. Fish like Bowfin are important parts of their native ecosystems, maintaining balance as predators. Unlimited harvest by bowfishing is not sustainable. Harvest limits should be established before the species population may be past the point of recovery.”

“Education on the value that native fish species play in their habitats is an important start. Native predatory fish like Bowfin help maintain balance in ecosystems, such as keeping prey fish populations in check. Many of these species are understudied, and we don’t know the tipping point where the population may not be able to recover,” he said.