KENNETT, Mo. (AP) -- Alligator Gar are beneficial to strengthening sport fish populations because the fish most often feed as scavengers in their habitats, according to area conservationists.
Recently young Alligator Gar were stocked at the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, according to Candice Davis of the Missouri Department of Conservation. Involved in the stocking were Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologist Chris Kennedy and The Mingo National Wildlife Refuge assistant manager Jason Lewis.
Mingo National Wildlife Refuge has 21,592 acres and is the largest remnant of bottomland hardwoods remaining out of an original 2 1/2 million acres in the Missouri Bootheel, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The refuge is located between Puxico and the Duck Creek Conservation Area and is known for its hunting, fishing, and nature photography opportunities.
Davis said Alligator Gar is by far the largest of the gars and is one of the largest freshwater fishes in America, reportedly growing 10 feet long and weighing up to 300 pounds.
Kennedy noted the stocking of the fish was extensive because of their territorial and cannibalistic behaviors. Davis added that the fish had to be placed apart without overcrowding a certain area.
A total of 275 young Alligator Gar were unloaded into the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, Davis noted.
Davis added that Kennedy said part of the planning for the stock involved tracking adult Alligator Gar. Kennedy noted that years ago individuals believed the gar hurt sport fish populations because of their rough appearance and large teeth.
"We found that's really not true," Kennedy said.
When pumping the stomachs of the tracked gar they found the fish feeding as scavengers helping to clean water communities, according to Kennedy.
"They were eating invertebrates and dead carcasses," Kennedy said.
Alligator Gar are common in locations known for great sport fishing in many other states, according to Davis.
Doug Siler, a Puxico resident and Duck Creek angler for many years, noted that science has shown him the truth about the Alligator Gars.
"Their benefit to game fish is higher than any cost," Siler said. "Education about Alligator Gar has changed my thinking. If people think like I use to, I say come out and see for yourself."
John Standard, of Poplar Bluff, also noted that he had seen positive sport fishing with healthy alligator gar populations half a century ago.
"Back on the Black River in Arkansas in the 1950s any summer afternoon you'd see 10 to 12 gar in a walk and some of the best bass fishing in the same stretch," Standard said.
Davis noted that Kennedy informed her that the Alligator Gar is a native to Missouri waters and that the animals have an intended role to help provide the balance required to maintain a clean and healthy water system.
"It is my dream to come out here one day and catch one of these full grown, huge Alligator Gar," Kennedy said.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)