The are ugly, a pre-historic looking creature from the deep that has gotten a bad rap over the years. But as more anglers discover the merits of the alligator gar, a meaty species with sharp teeth, biologists are starting to take note. And they can do so thanks to federal funding set up 75 years ago by hunters and anglers known as the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs.
“Historically, alligator gar have been considered both by anglers and by managers as essentially a trash fish" says Texas Parks & Wildlife biologist, Dan Daugherty. "No one really cared about them, no one really fished for them. So the managers didn’t really spend time collecting data either.”
But things have changed. And this large, long-lived species has caught the angler’s eye. The fish can live longer than 50 years and they get huge.
“The increase in popularity obviously is putting greater pressure on our populations," explains Daugherty. "Texas is home to the best populations of alligator gar left in the United States and we want to keep them that way.”
Thanks to funding from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs, biologists are now collecting data and tagging alligator gar so they can track them from year to year.
Alligator gar are the largest of the four species of gar in Texas. There’s the Spotted gar, Longnose gar and Shortnose gar as well. Documentation shows that alligator gar have weighed over 300-pounds and are popular fish for anglers. While anglers can keep one alligator gar per day, catch and release is preferred.
“So we are trying to collect as much information as we can to try to protect, conserve, manage," says Texas Parks & Wildlife biologist Kris Bodine. "To ensure the resource is available today, tomorrow, and a hundred years from now.”
Biologists have reason to care. A similar large species, the Lake Sturgeon in the Great Lakes, was commercially overfished to one-percent of its historic abundance in the early 1900s. They’re vulnerable because like gar, it takes them years to reach reproductive maturity.
“It takes a very long time for a species with this type of life history to make a comeback when the populations become depleted," says Daugherty. "We don’t want to get in a situation where we have to react to over harvest.”
“I’ve fished a lot and I’ve never fished for alligator gar," adds Bodine, "but, I tell you what, after working with them, I would definitely fish for alligator gar and I recommend anyone to do that. It’s a tremendous angling opportunity for folks to explore.”
You can find out more about the many research projects funded around the state by the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program.
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department produces these multi-media reports as an educational resource.