The air was filled with the sounds of night as we shoved off the bank and headed out. Shutting down the outboard and cranking the fan, our captain eased into the shallows and the hunt began.

As a first time passenger on a bowfishing expedition, I couldn't help but notice how the lights gave an eerie glow to the trees, almost like a fire on the water. This was going to be an adventure like none other.

Bowfishing is gaining in popularity in the United States. BowfishUSA, which began as an internet forum where interested parties could discuss bowfishing and related topics, has grown to nearly 2,000 members. The organization now focuses on promoting the sport of bowfishing across the nation, and will host a national, invitation-only bowfishing tournament July 5-7 on Lake Dardanelle near Russellville, Ark.

BowfishUSA has also developed a conservation division, headed by Dan Prevost, whose purpose is to promote bowfishing as a viable means of fisheries conservation.

"By removing over-populations of rough-fish species where necessary and by raising funds to replenish dwindling or low populations of fish species suitable for bowfishing, we hope to make bowfishing a viable tool for natural-resource managers," Prevost said. "We'll work with local natural resource departments to determine which populations need to be thinned in specific bodies of water and which locations are suitable for restocking of fish such as alligator gar and paddlefish where necessary."

The conservation division will also work with other established groups on similar programs and assist individuals doing research on fish species of interest to the bowfishing community.

"Funds raised by the conservation group can be used in-house or donated to other groups with a common cause," Prevost explained.

This year will also see the beginning of the Bowfishing Association of Mississippi, or BAM. Bert Turcotte, BAM vice president, took me out in his boat Bad Moon on Lake Yucatan for some bowfishing.

"I really like to harvest carp more than anything else," he said, "because they're a non-native species that can have huge impacts on native fisheries and ecosystems."

According to one study done by Auburn University's agricultural experiment station, the standing crop of bluegill can be reduced by more than 50 percent in combination with grass carp and by nearly 70 percent in combination with common carp.

Common carp cause dramatic ecological disruptions by directly consuming plants and indirectly uprooting or breaking the plants while foraging. Carp feeding behavior increases turbidity in the water, which further alters communities by decreasing light and visibility. In fact, bass fishermen experience reductions in catch rates for largemouth bass in ponds and lakes with high numbers of common carp.

In general, the effects of any fish species are dependent on how many are present. As the biomass of carp increases, their effects on water quality and species diversity increase.

"That's why we want to focus our attention on bodies of water with high populations of carp," Turcotte explained. "That's where bowfishing can have the biggest ecological benefit."

Prevost shot a buffalo, and pulled it into the boat for me to see.

"Is that a carp?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"You'll know it's a common carp by the barbells or whiskers on each side of its upper jaw," he explained. "Common carp are usually yellow or brassy looking."

Sure enough, 15 minutes later, he reeled one in, and even I could see the difference.

One of the problems with carp is that they grow very quickly so that the young are only vulnerable to predatory fishes for a short time. They've invaded most of the continental United States because they can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions.

In addition to causing an increase in water turbidity and a decrease in aquatic plants and invertebrates, common carp consume the eggs of other fishes, and their foraging activities can destroy the spawning beds of more desirable species.

"Common carp can totally dominate a fishery in a relatively short period of time," Prevost said. "We're talking about the feral hog of the fish world. They're non-native, have destructive feeding habits, extremely high reproductive rates and grow fast enough that they have few natural predators."

Common carp aren't the only problem. Bighead and silver carp have also found their way into many of North America's waterways. All three species have spread to most of the Mississippi River drainage. In fact, thousands of pounds of carp can be caught from some areas less than a half acre in size.

Silver carp present a direct hazard to humans as well as to the environments they inhabit.

"The vibration of a boat motor causes them to jump out of the water," Prevost said. "We're talking about big fish; getting hit with a jumping silver is like getting hit with a bowling ball."

Jumping carp cause damage to boats as well as injuries to people. Some waters have become too dangerous for skiing, and some groups researching the Asian carps have had to construct cages on their boats to protect themselves from the jumping fish.

Bighead and silver carp are in direct competition with native fishes for food and space. Paddlefish, a native species of concern, eat plankton as adults, the same food that Asian carps eat.

"If we can keep carp populations at a low enough level through activities like bowfishing, we can save managers a lot of time and money," Turcotte explained. "Once an overabundant population is established, just about the only way to greatly reduce or eliminate a population is to completely drain a lake or to use a fish toxicant. Obviously, we want to prevent those measures from being necessary."

For more information on bowfishing and this year's national tournament, check out www.bowfishusa.com or www.bowfishusa.com/MississippiBowfishing/.

Bowfishing is legal year-round, but is best in spring and early summer when fish are spawning and concentrated in smaller areas. Special permission may be required on state lakes or national wildlife refuge lakes. It is always best to check on local regulations before participating in any outdoor activity.