About 80 people gathered at the Bullpen Bar and Grill in New Athens on Thursday evening to learn more about plans to reintroduce the alligator gar to the Kaskaskia River by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The IDNR, which has been reintroducing the gar at a handful of locations throughout the state, said it will continue its efforts, be proactive about educating the public about the fish and conduct research.
Although the reintroductions have been uneventful in other places, the public meeting at the Bullpen was the only one of its kind so far in the state, according to Randy Sauer, a Kaskaskia Rver fisheries biologist.
The IDNR highlighted successful reintroductions in a variety of states along the Mississippi River, where the fish had previously lived, as well as the boon to those states’ sport-fishing interests.
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State Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, supports the plan and encouraged people to take up bowfishing.
“It’s a great thing to do in the off-season,” he said, referring to times when you can’t hunt deer or turkeys.
However, some in attendance raised concerns that the gar, which can reach 8 feet in length and weigh over 300 pounds, would hurt the Kaskaskia’s boating economy.
Jeff Stahl owns the Kaskaskia Riverhouse, a marina just north of Illinois 13 in New Athens. He said the presentation was informative, and for him personally, he understands the IDNR’s efforts. Educating the public, however, was a different matter.
A female gar, for example, takes 11 years to reach maturity, but Stahl was worried that just knowledge of the scary-looking fish would depress the number of boaters on the water.
“I worry about my customers,” he said, citing thin profit margins.
The IDNR took a variety of questions about the gar.
The department clarified that introducing the gar will not reduce the population of Asian carp, an idea that had previously gained traction.
The IDNR also reiterated the general passivity of the gar, which goes up to the surface for air but otherwise waits for prey and does not go after humans. The department’s biologists pointed out that, in 2015, there were 75 shark attacks and less than three alligator attacks in America. The number of recorded gar attacks in history, however, is zero, the biologists said.
Going further, one person in the audience drew a comparison between the gar and the muskie, which grows to 40 and 50 inches. The only difference is, the muskie is already here, and, according to the speaker, it is a lot more aggressive than the gar.
In addition, some people in the audience wondered about the cost of the program. The IDNR said that small gar from the fisheries are free, and the plan is paid for by fishing licenses.