Illinois Hatcheries Stocking Alligator Gar to Combat Carp by Debbie Kay
The state of Illinois has a monster carp problem. What better way to fight a monster than with a bigger monster? So goes the logic, as the state’s hatcheries gear up to begin stocking alligator gar in many of the state’s rivers that have invasive fish problems. Though the fish are native to Illinois, they have not been seen in the state’s waters since 1966. Their return is hoped not only to curb the growing carp population with one of the few native predators, but to return a major trophy fish to Illinois waters.
About Alligator Gar
Alligator gar are one of the most ancient species still living today, with fossil records of these fish dating back to over 100 million years ago. They can grow up to ten feet long and weigh up to 300lbs. From the 1930’s to the 1980’s, they were considered “trash fish” and a detriment to sport fishing. They are known as stalking predators, and will target large fish, small mammals and waterfowl. They were targeted for extermination in many waters of the US and Mexico during this period. When better knowledge of the interaction of ecosystems came in the 80’s, the emphasis went from extermination to protection and reintroduction. Today, many states have an alligator gar fishery.
Reintroduction into Illinois
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Illinois has waters that run into two massive interstate watersheds. Some waters run toward Lake Michigan and into the Great Lakes waterway, while others head toward the mighty Mississippi. There is a large pool of federal funding money that has been set aside to deal with the scourge of Asian Carp as it quickly repopulates through the area. The gar reintroduction program is using that funding to help deal with this issue. As a bonus, hatcheries stocking alligator gar will serve as a large trophy fish that can bring state revenue through fish endorsement licenses and tourism dollars.
Will it Work?
The gar is not a complete solution to the carp problem. Population-wise, the carp outnumber the gar by a massive amount. The largest carp are too large to be swallowed by the narrow-throated gar. Also, populations of gar will not breed until they reach sexual maturity at age 11, while carp begin reproducing at age 3. This means that they can take a small portion of the population, but they will never be the main control mechanism for these fish. However, after several years, once they have firmly reestablished their numbers, the gar can be a preventative measure in areas without Asian carp if smaller, younger fish try and expand their territory. Instead, netting and fish kills seems to be the only way to keep this majorly invasive fish species at bay.
When Will Gar Reintroduction Begin?
The hatcheries stocking alligator gar program has been approved since 2010, but funding has only recently been secured. Hatcheries are prepping to begin grow-out and release as early as next year. From there, Illinois will need to decide how to handle fishing seasons for this once extinct species.