Spotting a gar creeping along in shallow water is one of the most beautiful miracles of being alive. So let me applaud Henry Foster, a 10-year-old from Fayetteville who is pushing a campaign to make the alligator gar the state fish. Shamefully, Arkansas is currently one of only four states in the nation without a state fish.
On his change.org petition, Foster calls the alligator gar “tough and unique” and adds, “Don’t be a copy-catfish! Vote for Alligator Gar.”
Alligator gar, the largest species in the gar family, date back at least to the Early Cretaceous period, more than one hundred million years ago. They still look the part.
For more on the alligator gar, I recommend this riveting 2013 account from a federal Fish and Wildlife biologist who shares Foster’s enthusiasm. A sample:
For nearly one-half century, people have given Alligator Gar a bad reputation as a “trash fish.” When people ask us “Why are you raising Alligator Gar at Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery?”, we try to explain how as the largest, native, freshwater predator in North American these fish are a possible means to control the populations of invasive species such as the Silver and Bighead Carp. We go on to explain how in the 1950’s Arkansas was known for the Alligator Gar fishing and people came from all over the country to catch a six to eight foot fish on a rod and reel. Nowadays, anglers from around the world are flocking to Texas to try their hand at catching an Alligator Gar to brag about. After addressing the biological and economic importance of Alligator Gar, people then ask, “Don’t they eat all the Bass, Bream, and Crappie that I’m trying to catch”? Being scientists, we refer to studies that have been done on Alligator Gar diets to answer this question. We tell our visitors that the studies show a higher percentage of the Alligator Gar’s diet are made up of Shad, Carp, Buffalo, and Catfish. The final question most folks ask is “Can you eat them?” My standard answer is this is Louisiana; we eat anything that doesn’t eat us first.