Alligator gar reintroduction in Illinois waters - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Alligator gar reintroduction in Illinois waters

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WSIL -- The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is working to reintroduce the alligator gar in Illinois. The Division of Fisheries recently published it's Fish Species Management Plan for Alligator Gar in Illinois which highlights the state's efforts and plans for reintroduction.

The alligator gar was once found in major tributaries of the Mississippi and Ohio River as far north as the Illinois River. Today, it is consider extirpated, or extinct from Illinois waters.

Before reintroduction efforts began, the last reported catch of an alligator gar in Illinois occurred in the Cache-Mississippi Diversion Channel in 1966.

"They're the top of the food chain. They were here at one time, that's really the main reason," explained Dan Stephenson, IDNR chief of fisheries. "They were here and we have a chance to reestablish them. I don't know if they're going to take. This is going to be a very long term project. We're talking decades."

To date, the success-rate for introduction has been low. Females don't become sexually mature until they're 11 years old, meaning it could be years before breeding populations are possible in Illinois.

In southern Illinois, the lower Kaskaskia River is the only place they've been stocked, but it's one area that's been the most successful across the state.

In 2015, a woman bowfishing the lower Kaskaskia harvested an alligator gar that had been stocked in 2013.

The new management plan names the Big Muddy, Cache, and Wabash Rivers, along with the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers as possible areas for future stocking.

"We're actually trying to put them in the backwater," said Stephenson. "Those are those lakes that form along the sides of rivers. We put them in there at 12 inches thinking they'll get the chance to grow for a couple of years and then if the water comes up, they can escape."

Dietary studies show gizzard shad make up 95-percent of the alligator gar's diet. In areas that the fish are prevalent like the Southeastern United State, there has been no noticeable impact on invasive Asian carp populations.

"When the Asian carp are small, not long after they've hatched out, they'd be in the appropriate size range for an alligator gar. The Asian carp grow so quickly, that within a few months they're too big, even for a big alligator gar to take," explained Stephenson.

While alligator gar grow to be very large and have intimidating teeth, there have been no verified reports of an alligator gar ever attacking a human.

Shortnose gar, longnose gar, and spotted gar are common throughout the state and often mistaken for alligator gar.

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