Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Texas Alligator Gar Deserve Better Protection

The Texas Alligator Gar is the largest member of the Gar family and one of the largest freshwater fish in North America. This prehistoric fish can live as long as 75 years and they are the largest freshwater fish in Texas. A mature specimen can measure over 8 foot and weigh well over 200 pounds. The current world record for the largest Alligator Gar caught is 279 pounds. Gar as long as 9 or 10 foot were common if you read the old reports from the 1800s and early 1900s. These days any Gar over six foot is considered a big Gar and finding that size is getting very rare in many areas. The really big Gar are a sign of a healthy fish population and the really big Alligator Gar are getting hard to locate which indicates a problem in the population. One problem is that is may take 40-60 years to grow these mega Gar and we are catching them faster than the current population can replace these giants of the river. The female Gar must survive about 12 -14 years in the environment to even be a breeder. Alligator gars also apparently require very specific spawning conditions, including flooded terrestrial vegetation or seasonally flooded backwaters.

The Alligator Gar unlike most fish can take in air and live in waters where other fish can not survive. You can often spot them floating at the surface or gulping air on a hot day. Because it can take in air the Gar can survive for a while if taken out of water. This species has been around since prehistoric times but are now fighting for their very survival. Many have thought that Gar were decimating game fish populations but studies have shown that about 95 percent of the menu is rough fish and only a very small percentage of game fish are taken as food. Studies have even suggested that in certain environments the population of unwanted rough fish climb in numbers as the Gar are removed from the ecosystem. Gar have long been persecuted and even Texas Parks and Wildlife had a Gar eradication program in the early 1900s. My grandfather and father would kill every Gar that they caught on their trotlines believing that Gar killed large numbers of game fish. I was raised believing this myth and killed my share. Many other myths have painted the Gar as a vicious predator and have even listed it as a man-eater and guilty of attacks on humans. This is a complete fabrication and not even one attack by a Gar on a human has been documented. The attacks on humans that were suspected to be committed by Gar were later proven to be by the Gars namesake, the alligator, or in some cases by bull sharks that swam up the fresh water rivers. This does not mean you should put your fingers or toes anywhere near a Gar freshly caught as they will bite when trying to get back in the water and the teeth can cut if just rubbed across your skin.

I have been a bow hunter and bow fisherman for over 40 years and used to go Bowfishing for Gar and have a ball doing so. I now target only rough fish or long nose Gar which are more abundant. I’m not saying that we need to stop Bowfishing or rod and reel fishing for Gar but just protect the larger breeding-age fish that are crucial to the future of the population. I even pass the shots on large long nose Gar which are breeder age and abundant in our river system.

If you take a look at the Alligator Gars historic range and where there are now in fishable populations you will see how we have decimated the populations in the last 100 years.

Green - Naturally Sustaining Populations
Orange - Remnant Populations or Individual Observations
Red - Stocked Population
Yellow - Approximate Historic Range (Possible Extirpated)
* This map is an estimation of the historic and current range based on available data, habitat, and life history associations.

In 2009, Texas Parks and Wildlife began a bag limit of one Gar per day. This is a start in protecting the Alligator Gar but this great predator deserves better. I would urge each of you to set your own more restrictive limits and push for a Gar Tag limiting the take of the Mega Gars. Limits of one or two a year for Gar over 5 foot long with a trophy tag would be a reasonable start. There is no reason to kill these giants of the river, Spear fishermen and Bowhunters could shoot the non-breeding size Gar and fishermen that want to catch and eat the fish could also use the smaller Gar within reasonable limits which would keep a stable population. The days of catching and leaving Gar to die are over and to do so should be made a punishable crime by Texas Parks and Wildlife similar to game fish laws. There is no excuse for the waste of this valuable resource. Commercial fisherman would have to release any fish over 5 feet immediately. This policy would insure that Texas remains a stronghold for the great fish and preserve the breeding population. We have slot and size limits on lots of fish species, they are proven to work in preserving the species and allow for a reasonable harvest. This will even help those that guide professionally for the giant Alligator Gars as it will keep more trophy fish in the system for their clients to catch, measure and release.

Alligator Gar are becoming an important economic draw for parts of Texas as sports fisherman from other states travel to Texas in pursuit of catching a trophy Alligator Gar. The monies spent by these sportsmen are becoming an important income to many of these small Texas communities.

Get out and catch one of these hard fighting trophy fish and release it. I think you too will see that this is something that we must preserve for future generations. This species deserves our help, Wild Ed

Much of the information in this article was taken from the National Geographic Channel program Monster Fish, the Texas Parks and Wildlife study "Life History and Status of Alligator Gar Atractosteus spatula, with Recommendations for Management"
Prepared by:
David L. Buckmeier
Heart of the Hills Fisheries Science Center
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Inland Fisheries Division
and the book “Season of the Gar” by Mark Spitz.

If you get the chance to watch the National Geographic Channel’s program Monster Fish, the Alligator Gar, it is a very informative program with some great scenes of catching Gar. I would also highly recommend you get a copy of the book “Season of the Gar” by Mark Spitz. It is the story of the Alligator Gar by someone that was obsessed with catching Gar. It covers history, life cycle, persecution and efforts to save the Gar. Mark tells the story of his quest to catch a Mega Gar and his individual effort to restock the Gar in historical waters.

The following photos were taken from various websites and Google Images. I do not know when or where they were taken, who is in the picture or whom to give credit for the photograph. They do show mega Alligator Gars and thus I have published them here. Wild Ed


AimLowRobin said...

Wild Ed,

Everyone has an opinion and you are entitled to yours. But, when it comes to fish and wildlife management opinions are best left alone and decisions based on real scientific facts. Very little real facts are known on alligator gar at this point and frankly NatGeo tends to slant statements to support their agenda. Even your "historic" range map is based on speculation and heresay...kinda like the old timers and their 10 footers. Just as the range is speculated, so is the reasons for the gar to no longer fill it.

I support more research for real facts on gar along with more control on commercial fishing for the gar. If real research can back up the need for even more restrictions...then so be it.

Two of the pictures used are mine and under the copyright and ownership of Aim Low Productions, LLC. The one with the chain and the one with the blue boat. Please remove them as I do not wish for any outdoorsmen to associate me or my company with restricting hunters or fishermen without sound wildlife facts behind the restrictions.

Robin Parks
Aim Low Productions, LLC

Wild Ed said...

Robin I have removed your pictures as requested. I also have posted your opinion for all to read. I agree that that we need more research, however many in fisheries science and also some of those that guide for Alligator gar feel that the population is down for whatever reason. In talking to older people I also know that places where Alligator gar were found in Texas in the early 1900s that no longer have Alligator gar. I do think that we should restrict the take until we know more and not just keep killing the big ones as fast as we can. Since you are in the bowhunting bowfishing business I understand your concern and also hope there will be enough Gar for you to continue what you do for a long time. As I said I am not condemning anyone just asking that we restrict the take of the large ones. The sad thing will be if no one does anything and they dwindle in numbers like they have in Arkansas which is a documented fact.

Here is a link to a study based on scientific facts done by the Heart of the Hills Fisheries Science Center and their recommendations.


I am having problems making this a live link in comments so you may have to cut and paste it to read the document or just Google Life History and Status of Alligator Gar.

Harold Ray said...

>>>>I support more research for real facts on gar along with more control on commercial fishing for the gar. If real research can back up the need for even more restrictions...then so be it.<<<<

If Alligator Gar losing most of their natural range is not the best justification for limits and regulations for taking gar for the market or just wanton killing of them, as has been the case in many regions, I don't know what is. As humans, we have many weapons in our arsenal; gar have few, but they have survived far longer on this earth than we. That says a lot.

Killing them is fool's play; Alligator Gar are another major member of our ecosystem, and they have been for many millions of years. Eliminating one member as has been done in most of the historic Alligator Gar range affects other ecosystem members, whether you realize that or not.

Past history of the species and historical records also agree well with that mentioned here.

Alligator Gar need protection in Texas. If they don't get it, they will follow the path of their species in other states to extinction or near extinction.

Harold Ray Emerson, D.V.M.

AimLowRobin said...

Just for your consideration...The blog says: "These days any Gar over six foot is considered a big Gar and finding that size is getting very rare. The really big Gar are a sign of a healthy fish population and the really big Alligator Gar are getting hard to locate which indicates a problem in the population."

This is the kind of statement I have issue with when used to support opinions concerning the current gar population in TX. I visit TX once every 1-2 years to bowfish. I consider 7' to be a benchmark for a "big" gar and it is easy to go out and see plenty of big gar. I can come down and take you on several bodies of water and let you see all kinds of 7+ footers and some 8 footers as well. Six footers are a dime a dozen and do not get shot by me. If a guy like me from out of state can find the gar...sorry, a TX native saying 6 footers are rare just doesn't jive.

That said...seeing a big gar and getting one are not the same. I do not support unlimited wanton killing of the gar, but they are no where near being on the path to extinction. To say so is to speak with emotion and not fact.

Albert A Rasch said...

Wow Robin Parks...

Way to talk to all your fellow outdoorsmen.

I can then be assured that you have all the, how did you put it? "sound wildlife facts," and you would be more than happy to ellucidate upon them, correct?

I found Wild Ed's article so compelling, that I am using it as one of my "Best of the Outdoor Bloggers" series. And I might add that I am a student of biology.

Now, I am more than willing to listen to your side of the story, and if what you infer is true, then I am sure that all parties would be in complete understanding of the truth of the matter.

Right now, I am inclined to believe, vis-s vie the evidence that Ed has presented, that the gar is indeed threatened versus your opinion.

Actually, your arguement reminds me of that of the plume hunters of the early 1900s...

You know what? I am off to a FOB in the morning. I am going to give this some thought, and I believe that I am going to write a post on Ed's post, Robin's opinion, and my take on the discussion. This should be enlightening...

Best regards,
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles: Game Reserves, Preserve Hunting, High Fence Hunting, What are the Facts?

Albert A Rasch said...


Please email me at your convenience.

theraschoutdoorchronicles at msn dot com

I would like to discuss this matter in depth with you if you are amenable, before I start writing anything.

I'm from the ready, shoot, aim school of reacting, and I think my emotions got the better of me in my response. I'm usually far better mannered than that. All outdoorsmen need a fair shake, even when we may not agree on every nuance or detail!


Albert A Rasch said...


That may be so in your case, as a professional videographer it would be important for you to know and hunt those areas where you would best find those huge fish so that you may produce and sell videos.

And though it may be true that in certain bodies of water there are a sizeable population of "trophy" gar, it is incontestable that the overall health of the population is in decline. It is obvious that they are gone from the Missisippi River, most coastal rivers in Florida and northern Mexico.

What I am trying to say is that it is incumbant upon us to limit the numbers we take, to self-regulate, and to show some respect to the game we take.

Anyhow, I invite you to discuss this matter and perhaps we can, together come up with the answers we all seek.

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles: Human Rat Discovered Preying on Outdoor Sites!

ToneyC said...

Great article!

This needs to be circulated as much as possible. There are still a lot of ignorant people that think a gar is a "trash" fish. I guarantee you there are several people these days that still kill gar and leave them on the bank to die.

I admit that I had that same mentality growing up in Louisiana. I didn't make it my quest to kill every gar I hooked but I shared the same ignorance as many people do about these fish.

I booked a few trips with Kirk Kirkland and he opened my eyes to the myths associated with these great fish. I started doing research on my own and there isn't a tremendous amount of information about them. There is still much to learn about them and Kirk does a great job of measuring and tagging each fish he catches. That information goes to TPWD and aids them in their research.

Thanks for taking the time to write the article. Hopefully, as our youngsters grow up and learn the truth about these fish; the gar are "trash" fish mentality will disappear.