Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Fish And Wildlife Works To Restore Fish Species Absent From State For 40 Years
Anglers along the banks of the lowland rivers in western Kentucky may soon encounter a toothy fish that they haven’t seen for decades, if at all: the alligator gar.
Alligator gar restoration efforts by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources began last year in the western part of the state.
Fisheries Biologist Paul Rister said it’s not clear how the fish will react to their new home. “Because they have been absent from our rivers for so long, we’re unsure if we have the habitat that alligator gar prefer,” he explained. “Only time will tell if they become established in western Kentucky.”
Western Kentucky has longnose, shortnose and spotted gar, all three of which are common species. While local residents may call all of these alligator gar, the truth is that no one has seen an alligator gar in Kentucky waters since the late 1970s.
Alligator gar were once native to the backwaters, sloughs and bayous of the Mississippi, lower Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. However, this species disappeared from the state for a variety of reasons, including habitat loss for spawning fish and juvenile gar.
Due to the alligator gar’s rarity, the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission added this fish to its list of endangered species. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources also identified the alligator gar as a species of greatest conservation need in the agency’s Wildlife Action Plan. Alligator gar restoration efforts are now eligible for federal funding through the State Wildlife Grants program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife employees have developed a restoration plan to bring this amazing fish back to its native range in western Kentucky. Similar restoration efforts are also underway by state and federal agencies in Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee and other southeastern states.
In 2009, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife employees reintroduced approximately 4,700 juvenile alligator gar back into select rivers and creeks along the Mississippi and lower Ohio rivers. More of these fish are being stocked this year.
With the goal of this project as a restoration effort, fish will only be stocked where they once occurred naturally. Because alligator gar grow slowly, it will take many years before these fish begin reaching large sizes. Female alligator gar do not become mature until age 11, while males reach maturity at age 6.
This restoration effort provides fisheries biologists a unique opportunity to learn about the alligator gar’s biology, movements and habitat preferences in Kentucky. Surgically implanted transmitters in some of the fish will allow researchers to track them.
Alligator gar stocked last year are approximately two feet long today. Anglers should release these fish if caught, and avoid shooting these gar while bow fishing. Alligator gar have a shorter, wider snout than the other species of gar. Anglers can see an image of an alligator gar in the current edition of the Kentucky Fishing and Boating Guide.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s ultimate goal is to develop a self-sustaining, natural population of alligator gar in western Kentucky that can provide the opportunity for a recreational sport fishery.