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Alligator gar: The fine print of reintroduction plan in Illinois

Yesterday, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources sent around the announcement of publication of “Fish Species Management Plan for Alligator Gar in Illinois.”

The plan is online here.

I wanted to sleep on it, before commenting.

It seems like a generally good plan.

But I tend to worry about what I feel is a cavalier attitude on the part of the IDNR when it comes to harvest; especially in the early years of reintroduction. By that I mean right now, other than restrictions on commercial harvest there are no regulations on harvest of alligator gar, even though the state is going to a great deal of effort and some cost to reintroduce them.

I also understand it is very difficult to distinguish young alligator gar from other species of gar. But I would err on the side of caution and put a short-term shutdown on gar harvest (hook-and-line or bowfishing) in the site-specific restocked waters for a few years.

Otherwise, I find it one of the more exciting reintroductions in the history of Illinois outdoors.

Here is the press release from the IDNR:

IDNR Releases Management Plan for Reintroduction of Alligator Gar in Illinois Waters

SPRINGFIELD, IL – The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Division of Fisheries has published its Fish Species Management Plan for Alligator Gar in Illinois, which details IDNR’s effort to reintroduce alligator gar to Illinois waters.

A fish native to Illinois, the alligator gar was determined to be extirpated, or extinct from Illinois waters. The last known catch of the fish, prior to the start of the reintroduction effort, was in the Cache River basin in southern Illinois in 1966.

“The plan details our efforts and activities as we attempt to reestablish and manage alligator gar populations in Illinois,” said IDNR Fisheries Chief Dan Stephenson. “They are a large, unique species that we would like to see thriving in Illinois waters again. There has been a lot of interest in our reintroduction efforts already, and we encourage anyone interested in sport fishing and this project to look at the plan.”

The alligator gar is the largest of the gar species and second largest freshwater fish in North America, next to the white sturgeon. The current all-tackle record alligator gar, caught in 1953 in Texas, weighed 302 pounds and measured 7-ft., 6-in. in length. Researchers determined that prior to extirpation, Illinois produced some individual gar measured at more than eight feet in length, with the heaviest weighing 176 pounds.

IDNR Fisheries personnel last fall stocked approximately 1,600 alligator gar as part of the reintroduction program at Powerton Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area (Tazewell Co.), Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area (Cass Co.), Horseshoe Lake State Park (Madison Co.), and Kaskaskia River State Fish and Wildlife Area (St. Clair Co.). Tiny electronic tracking tags were attached to those fish for biologists to monitor their progress.

The success of the plan will be documented through annual progress and achievement reports for each management objective, and the plan will be updated as needed.

The Fish Species Management Plan for Alligator Gar in Illinois is posted online at: