Lone Star Adventure - Alligator Gars - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Lone Star Adventure - Alligator Gars

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Tonight's Lone Star adventure features a living dinosaur. Legend has them growing ten feet long - a giant fish with a head like an alligator.

Texas is one of the last places you can still catch them and an effort is underway by Texas biologists to keep it that way.

Texas generally, and the Trinity south of Dallas specifically, have become a last stronghold for one of the true river monsters of the world - the fearsome-looking but generally harmless alligator gar - among the largest fresh-water fish anywhere.

It's a prized trophy now, but in the 1930s there were widespread campaigns across the south to wipe out the alligator gar, then seen as dangerous and a threat to game fish.

Unfortunately, the effort was pretty successful.

"This one came from a young angler named Blackburn who shot this down at a fishing tournament down by Anuahac," said Dan Bennett.

Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Dan Bennett is in the midst of a research project on the alligator gar, a species scientists know surprisingly little about.

"Collect some of these fish, specifically these large fish, and really of all sizes just to understand what their growth rates are," he said.

Bennett is working with folks who bow-hunt and fish for them.

"Course they're just as interested in these fish as we are and want to see them protected for future generations to come."

It's a noisy, messy, smelly job that involves digging out a bone in the inner ear that, under a microscope, will reveal annual growth rings.

"There's one here. You can see it's pretty small structure relative to the size of the fish," Bennett said.

The numbers of alligator gar in our rivers and lakes remain pretty good, but Texas Parks and Wildlife is worried enough about the harvesting of the really big ones that, in September of 2009, they instituted a one-a-day limit. And that's for commericial fishermen, bow hunters and rod and reel.

A few of the really big ones are still around. A record crushing catch was made in February in the backwaters of the Mississippi near vVcksburg - 8 feet 5 inches long and 327 pounds.

Bennett and other biologists are also tagging live fish, trying to better understand their reproduction, tracking the seasonal movement and hoping to find ways to enhance their reproduction and prevent over-harvesting.

They suspect the fish can live as long as 60 years, but aren't sexually mature until the age of ten.

"If larger numbers of the large fish which are reproducing successfully are killed, it may take as long as a couple decades to restore the populations," explained Bennett.

The alligator gar historically had a range of some 14 American states diminshed greatly by over-fishing and loss of flood plain habitat. Some states where they've disappeared have begun re-stocking programs.

Texas is trying now to avoid the need for that.

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