Once hated alligator gar may have increased popularity, usefulness
Alligator gar swam the streams of the Midwest for thousands of years, probably millions of years. Now they are gone.
Also, for years when alligator gar were found, they were considered “trash” or nuisance fish. However, today some people, especially fisheries biologists and managers, would like to have them back in Midwestern rivers. Today, you have to travel to southern states to find them.
Alligator gar, which also are called garpike, would never win a beauty contest. They are ugly, get huge, and they earn their name because the head looks much like the head of an alligator. The shape,, snout, and two rows of large, long sharp teeth are very similar in appearance to the actual alligator.
As I recall, I once saw an alligator gar in an aquarium, and hadn’t thought or heard about them for years, until my friend Gil Hubbard, a retired Methodist minister, sent me an internet link to a story about the big fish and the renewed interest in them.
Gil, myself, and several friends made a ritual of fishing for trout on the opening day of the fall season following stocking. But these trout were nothing like the monster gar.
Gil’s note started me thinking (always dangerous), and that led me to the computer for a bit of research.
Disdained by fishermen and with spawning grounds that had been destroyed over the years, the alligator gar today primarily only survives in the southeastern United States in the tributaries of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. They had been declared extinct in several states further north.
Many anglers thought the fish threatened sport fish and something that should be exterminated when any opportunity arose.
Alligator gar, which is related to the bowfin, are considered by many to be a prehistoric fish, a look into the past. They can be traced back into history over 100 million years, and are called by some, “a living fossil.
One unusual aspect of the gar and a reason it has survived for some many millions of years is that it can breath both in and out of the water.
These gar have the ability to thrive in even the most inhospitable waters. They have a swim bladder that they can fill by gulping air, which they use to supplement their gill breathing in low-oxygen environments. However, they can’t survive outside of water for a long period of time.
Alligator gar can become quite large. They can reach a length of 10 feet (most don’t), and they also can top a scales up to 300 pounds. And while they will eat other fish, research shows game or sport fish aren’t their favorite. They also are known make lunch on a duck or other mammals.
However, the reason of the renewed interest in the prehistoric old fish is that they seem to love a diet of Asian carp, which have become a real problem in streams throughout the South and MIdwest. Much research and millions of dollars are being spent on trying to stop the progression of the exotic carp.
Biologists are beginning to raise the gar and restock them into some Midwestern streams in hopes they will reproduce and begin to feed on and slow the growth of the unwanted carp. In particular reintroduction efforts have started in Illinois and Tennessee.
“What else is going to be able to eat those monster carp?” said Allyse Ferrara, an alligator gar expert at Nicholls State University in Louisiana, where the species is relatively common. “We haven’t found any other way to control them.
Researchers also are trying to find some use for the carp as a food source, fertilizer or other product, but that effort also is in its infancy.
Biologists say reintroducing the gar certainly won’t be a quick fix, but it is hoped that over time the alligator gar will begin to made a dent in the asian carp population.