Protecting Florida's Alligator Gar
Some anglers may wonder why the FWC moved to protect alligator gar. While some anglers enjoy the sport of pursuing and catching this species, other anglers actually consider it a "trash" fish, not worth their efforts. FWC biologists believe no native fish is a trash fish. In fact, alligator gar play an important role in river ecosystems. This species represents a critical component of the food web as a top carnivore. Unfortunately, the numbers of alligator gar in much of their range have decreased. That’s why the FWC strengthened protection for this species.
In 2006, FWC Commissioners decided no one may take or possess alligator gar in Florida waters without a special permit. The FWC may issue these permits for scientific research and management efforts.
Alligator gar is one of the most distinctive freshwater fish species and the largest of all gar. They can exceed 200 pounds and grow to more than 6 feet long. The species gets its name from having the body of a typical gar and a head that resembles that of an alligator. Because of their huge size and great strength, alligator gar are popular with anglers; however, the popularity of this fish does not reflect its value as a human food source. While edible, they are not highly desired by most people, and, as with other gars, their roe is toxic.
It's difficult to catch alligator gar on a hook and line because of their strength and sharp teeth, and those fish caught via hook and line are susceptible to death from the stress of the fight and handling. Bow-fishing, a popular method of harvesting gar and other nongame fish, guarantees the fish will not survive.
Alligator gar occur in rivers and sometimes brackish waters across the southeastern U.S. from Florida to Texas and into Mexico. In Florida, they do not occur farther east than the Apalachicola River in the Panhandle. Previously, this species' range extended to the upper reaches of the Mississippi River in Illinois, Ohio and Missouri. Now, the species is declining or completely absent from the edges of its historical range.
Recent studies in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana suggest alligator gar are very susceptible to over-fishing. Similar to other large fish species, such as sturgeon, alligator gar can live a long time. Typically, long-lived species do not reach sexual maturity for many years. Male alligator gar take six years to reach maturity and can live approximately 26 years, while females reach maturity in 11 years and can live 50 years. Since this species cannot reproduce until later in life when they are larger, they are susceptible to over-harvesting. Reproduction potential directly relates to size in alligator gar. In other words, bigger fish have more offspring. This was an important consideration for managers determining how to best protect Florida’s alligator gar.
Recognizing the decline of this species’ population, several other southeastern states, including Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee, also have identified the need for conservation of alligator gar. FWC biologists continue to learn more about the cause of these declines and work to develop a plan to revitalize the population. The technical knowledge gained through this research will guide efforts to manage alligator gar, and Florida's other fish and wildlife resources, for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people.