CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) alligator gar stocking program that began in 2007 at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge has grown to extend throughout areas of Southeast Missouri. Christopher Kennedy, MDC’s Fisheries Regional Supervisor, said the project is part of the Department’s mission to protect and manage fish in the state.
“This is an effort to restore biodiversity through the restoration of a species that has declined in our state in recent years,” Kennedy said. “Working towards the intended diversity of species in our waters is a big part of ensuring Missouri continues to be a great place to fish. All of our aquatic species play a role in making that happen.”
Efforts this week have brought alligator gar from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Hatcheries in Tupelo, MS and Tishomingo, OK to the waters of Southeast Missouri. Specifically, alligator gar were released in waters at Twin Borrow Pits Conservation Area (CA) in Pemiscot County, Donaldson Point CA in New Madrid County, Black Island CA in Pemiscot County, Thirty-four Corner Blue Hole in Mississippi County, Seven Island CA in Mississippi County and Wilhelmina CA in Dunklin County.
According to Kennedy, the alligator gar is by far the largest of gars and is one of the largest freshwater fishes in North America. Alligator gar has been reported to grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds. However, the fish stocked this week fit in the palms of biologists’ hands.
Kennedy said much thought and planning has gone into the plan to stock these fish. He said these fish can be territorial and cannibalistic if placed too close together, so biologists stock them while they’re young and are methodical in placing the individuals so they’re not crowded.
Kennedy said years ago, because of the alligator gar’s large teeth and rough appearance, people wanted to get rid of them for fear they hurt sport fish populations such as bass, crappie and catfish.
“We found that’s really not true,” Kennedy said.
In fact, when Kennedy and other national researchers investigated eating habits of alligator gar that they are truly opportunistic, feeding on prey items that are abundant and easily captured where they live. The range of alligator gar extends from southern Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico, so their prey varies greatly. They are known to commonly feed on shad, buffalo, carp, mullet, crabs and other non-game species.
“They also eat plenty of insects and worms and have a high tendency to scavenge on dead things,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the key most important aspect of this management effort is the restoration of a native species, alligator gar, and that renewing this species will provide benefits for game and non-game fish species and the control of invasive species, along with maintaining a clean and healthy water system.
For more information on alligator gar or fishing in Missouri, go online to mdc.mo.gov or check out the MDC fishing application, MO Fish, on your cell phone.