Illinois DNR brings back alligator gar

Alligator gar - Atractosteus spatula

Illinois is renewing efforts to reintroduce the locally extinct alligator gar to the state’s water system.

The long, cylindrical fish with a long beak used to be found in Illinois but was extirpated, with the last recorded catch in 1966.

Dan Stephenson, chief of fisheries for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said his division is part of a program being given alligator gar “fry,” or juvenile fish, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The fry are given to us,” Stephenson said. “We raise them, some in our hatcheries, and also we have two cooperating private hatcheries that really think it’s neat and interesting to try to bring back the alligator gar.”

The Illinois DNR started restocking the alligator gar in 2009 before taking a few years off. It resumed last year by stocking approximately 1,600 alligator gars. The state received this year’s supply in May and will raise them until September, then release them.

“We put them in there about 12-16 inches, and let them grow for a couple of years, hopefully,” Stephenson said. “And once they get bigger, then if you happen to get flooding, then they’ll move out into the river and really disperse pretty widely.”

The Illinois DNR hopes to create a population of alligator gar that is attractive to fishers.

According to Stephenson, the alligator gar can grow to 6 or 7 feet, and the record weight is more than 300 pounds.

“They get so big they make quite a trophy for the anglers to go after,” he said. “We have an opportunity to bring back a fish that’s extirpated — you know, extinct in Illinois — that’s really pretty neat to be able to do that.”

Stephenson emphasized that the project will take time.

“We know that to create a self-sustaining fish population is going to be difficult,” Stephenson said. “The females aren’t sexually mature until they’re 11 years old. This is really a long-term project. We’re talking decades if this works at all.”

Stephenson noted that the effort has minimal costs associated with it, and that fishing licenses, not taxpayers, help pay for any expenses.

“We’re going to do this every year as long as the Fish and Wildlife Service will give us the fry,” Stephenson said.

Three other types of gar still exist in Illinois: the shortnose; longnose; and spotted gar. The alligator gar population is thriving in southern states from Florida to Texas. Stephenson said alligator gar do not pose any threat to residents.

–Illinois News Network

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