The Garfish is a pelagic fish that is found in freshwater, brackish water and saltwater. While the common garfish species are labeled as least concern at the time that I published this blog post, there is some concern over this species as a whole becoming endangered for a few reasons. The Alligator Garfish, however, has been reported to be rare to find and threated in several US states including: rare in Missouri, threatened in Illinois, and endangered in Arkansas, Kentucky, and is soon to be in Tennessee.
One reason is that the garfish is commonly caught as bycatch since it is a pelagic, open water hunter. You can eat them, however, due to their green colored bones which is a result of the presence of biliverdin (bile) in their bone – some people find this to be unappetizing. For this reason, the garfish developed a bit of an unfair and bad reputation as the “trash fish” amoung fisherman.
It was believed at one point that the garfish damaged nets and ate up all of the game fish. As a result, rather than just throwing them back, resource managers commonly recommended culling them. Throughout the 20th century, the garfish’s numbers plummeted with only Texas and Louisiana maintaining stable populations in the US.
In recent years, biologists learned more about them, more importantly that they do not actually damage net nor do they eat up game fish and the reputation of the species as a whole has improved. The Alligator Gar specifically even became a popular target for fisherman, especially bowfishers. This became a concern to conservationists and lead to the protection by law of this species in parts of it’s geographic range in order to preserve it’s numbers.
There have even been efforts to reintroduce the alligator gar to some US bodies of water where their numbers were previously low. For example, the Department of Natural Resources of Illinois has a Alligator Gar Reintroduction Program. While this plan is considered to be an “evolving plan” in 2010, the IDNR’s Division of Fisheries began to reintroduce the Alligator Gar via a captive breeding program. The program breeds and releases garfish that are at least 12 inches in length to ensure their highest chances of survival. While the exact size of release among other factors is still being discovered, the program aims to both bring this species’ numbers back to abundant for the environment while making the recent popular trophy fish readily and sustainable available for fisherman. You can learn more about their program here: https://www.ifishillinois.org/programs/alligatorgar_news.html
Hopefully other states where they are seeing a decline in this species will adopt a program like IDNR’s as well.