Illinois is re-introducing alligator gar back into the wild.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is re-introducing a huge, ancient predator to the Illinois River in attempt to restore the species native range.
CIproud.com reports officials with the IDNR worked with The Nature Conservancy in Illinois to release 45 alligator gar in the waters of the river in Fulton County's Emiquon Preserve. The fish were weighed and tagged before being released.
The released gar were raised in a Mississippi fish hatchery before being moved to Illinois. The species had a historic range throughout the Mississippi River Valley. However, the species experienced over-fishing and habitat loss that effectively led to them being declared extinct in Illinois sometime in the 1990s.
The Nature Conservancy's Director of River Conservation, Doug Blodgett explained the reasons for introducing the large, predatory fish that can reach hundreds of pounds and up to 10 feet in length.
"Emiquon is one of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the Midwest, and one of 40 designated wetlands of international importance in the U.S." Bodgett told the news station. "By bringing these native fish ere, we're re-establishing an extirpated ancient fish species and further restoring the health and ecological balance of Illinois waters."
He also noted that the species was in Illinois before the dinosaurs were in the river before the dinosaurs and managed to out-live them. A press release on the Illinois DNR website further evaluates on the DNR's plan to restore alligator gar. The project is going to be time-consuming for this long-lived species is slow to sexually mature and may not even spawn every year according to former IDNR Chief of Fisheries Dan Stephenson.
"We now raise the fish to at least 12 inches before stocking so that their survival is vastly improved," Stephenson said in a press release.
The DNR also says that anglers should not worry about gar targeting popular game fish as prey. It eats mostly carp and shad. They also note that the gar are not being introduced to control Asian carp invasions. While the gar may indeed eat some Asian carp, the invasive fish's numbers are too great to be controlled by gar.
The INDR has been working this reintroduction program since 2010 and will use the tags to further monitor how the species is doing. Eventually size and possession limits will be introduced as necessary for anglers.
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