The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to restore alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) populations in the Lower Mississippi River Valley.  Gar are not currently federally-listed as threatened or endangered. However, in some areas their populations have substantially decreased over the past 50 years prompting most states within their historic range to enact local protections.  

Alligator gar are unique and important part of healthy ecosystems.  

Alligator gar are a native species that provide balance to support a healthy stable ecosystem. They first evolved at least 100 million years ago, making them some of the most ancient vertebrate species in existence today. They are also one of the largest apex predators in the Mississippi River system where they commonly grow to be over 6 ft (1.8 m) long.   

Learn more about Alligator gar 

Habitat loss and over-harvesting have impacted some populations of alligator gar.  

There are many reasons for declines in alligator gar populations, including habitat loss and over-harvesting. Historically alligator gar were considered a "trash or nuisance fish" and targeted for eradication but now these fascinating fish are becoming better understood and valued for their role in ecosystem balance. In some regions of the U.S. they are a highly-prized sportfish due to their size and dramatic appearance.  

Our work takes a holistic approach to ensure safe and healthy populations of these ancient fish are around for future generations.   

  • Assessing populations to better understand movement patterns, habitat use, and the status of the species.  

  • Working with partners to conserve healthy habitat and restore altered habitat.  

  • Boosting wild populations using hatchery raised fish.  

  • Monitoring wild and restored populations.  

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee holds an alligator gar boat-side.

Assessing populations to better understand movement patterns, habitat use, and the status of the species.  (A.K.A. Counting Fish)  

 The Baton Rouge Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office conducts monitoring surveys to learn about habitat that is important to this vulnerable species at each stage of its life history. This information then helps to inform other conservation and management efforts. While biologists don’t completely understand abundance estimates for all alligator gar populations across their range, they are currently working to better understand population demographics of hatchery stocked fish. Counting fish is an important part of conservation. It helps us know which species are in trouble, which species are recovering, what efforts are helping, and where we need to do more. Without a strong monitoring and assessment program, conservation efforts can lack direction or effectiveness.  

Working with partners to conserve healthy habitat and restore altered habitat.  

Gar spawn (reproduce) in floodplains with connections to regular spring flooding from the river. Unfortunately for the alligator gar, and other floodplain species, flood control measures such as levees and dams have largely eliminated or fragmented their preferred spawning habitat in the Lower Mississippi River Valley. St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge is one of the few protected areas that still experience naturalistic flooding adjacent to the Mississippi River in southern Mississippi, and it is the only wildlife refuge in the country where alligator gar are fully protected. Because of this unique habitat and protection, the refuge is home to an important and healthy alligator gar population.   

Boosting wild populations using hatchery raised fish.  

In addition to studying the alligator gar population at the refuge, biologists also use a few wild adult fish from the refuge as brood or parent stock to help produce future generations of alligator gar. For the past twenty years national fish hatcheries like Pvt. John Allen National Fish Hatchery have been propagating alligator gar in the hatchery then stocking them into waterways within their historic range to help boost and restore wild populations. National fish hatcheries raise aquatic wildlife, like fish or mussels, to support conservation, help recover at-risk species, and to support recreational fishing.   

There are many ways you can help migratory fish across America.   

Contact Information

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service logo in grayscale
Wildlife Refuge Manager
National Wildlife Refuge System
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service logo in grayscale
Project Leader
Fish and Aquatic Conservation,
National Fish Hatchery System

Species

Programs

150 Years. National Fish Hatchery System.” in front of glossy orange eggs against a white background.
The National Fish Hatchery System works to support healthy, self-sustaining populations of fish and other aquatic species across the country. Every year we raise and stock over 100 million fish to support the recovery and restoration of imperiled species, recreational fishing, and Tribal...
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages an unparalleled network of public lands and waters called the National Wildlife Refuge System. With more than 560 refuges spanning the country, this system protects iconic species and provides some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities on Earth.

Facilities

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The Baton Rouge Fisheries Conservation office provides aquatic resource monitoring and development of aquatic resource management plans and recommendations for national wildlife refuges, tribal lands and other federal lands.
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St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1990, provides an important wintering habitat for migratory waterfowl and seasonal habitat for other migratory birds
Lower Mississippi River secondary channel
The Lower Mississippi River Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) coordinates the work of many different state and federal natural resource management and environmental quality agencies that deal with aquatic resource issues along the Lower Mississippi River and throughout the Southeastern...