CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) stocked alligator gar today as part of a program that began in 2007 at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge and has grown throughout areas of Southeast Missouri.
Salvador Mondragon, an MDC fisheries management biologist, said the project is part of the Department's mission to protect and manage a valuable fishery in the state.
"This is an effort to restore biodiversity through the restoration of a species that has declined not only in our state but throughout its entire range," Mondragon said. "Working toward the intended diversity of species in our waters is a big part of ensuring Missouri continues to be a great place to fish and each of our water-living species plays a role in making that happen."
Efforts today brought alligator gar from Chesapeake Hatchery in Mount Vernonto the waters of Wilhelmina, Hornersville Swamp Conservation Area (CA) in Dunklin County, Black Island, Twin Borrow Pits CA in Pemiscot County, Donaldson Point CA in New Madrid County, Seven Island and Thirty-four Corner Blue Hole CA in Mississippi County.
According to Mondragon, 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 at 10 feet long, weighing up to 350 pounds. However, the fish stocked this week fit in the palms of biologists' hands.
Mondragon said much thought and planning has gone to stocking 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.
Mondragon 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.
"We found that's really not true," Mondragon said. In fact, when Mondragon and other biologists pumped the stomachs of alligator gar they found the fish were feeding mostly as scavengers, which helps to clean water.
"While young they eat invertebrates [insects and worms], or fish that they have the best opportunity of catching such as sunfish, buffalo, shad or Asian carp," he said.
Mondragon said, as a native to Missouri waters, these alligator gar have an intended role to help provide the balance required in maintaining healthy ecosystem.
State and federal agencies are working to change the stigma of this fish. These fish are targeted by bow fishing, which has increased in popularity within our region. With bow fishing activity increasing there is also an increased concern to protect the few alligator gar found within the state.
"These fish were once targeted for the mere joy of killing a large fish and then left to lay on the banks of rivers or lakes," Mondragon said. "MDC is working hard to educate the public about the role of this important species, and the positive impacts that it has on other fish communities."
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 cellphone.