The Future of Gar in Texas

How Will We Sustain Alligator Gar Populations?

Researcher with gar
at Falcon Lake

A primary goal of TPWD’s alligator gar management is to maintain or improve our populations in Texas. In the Trinity River, this objective includes retaining fishable numbers of the largest, recreationally valuable fish. Because relatively few alligator gar can be sustainably harvested each year, and there are more and more anglers pursuing these fish, it is critical that we closely monitor both reproduction and harvest. The agency must monitor when reproduction is successful to know when we have strong year classes entering the population and estimate harvest to ensure not too many fish are being removed. For many of our well-known alligator gar populations in Texas, recent floods have resulted in good reproduction. For example, large spring and summer floods in the Trinity River during 2007 and 2015 produced exceptional year classes that will support the fishery for years to come, as long as the fish are not over-harvested. To help ensure our alligator gar populations remain in good shape, TPWD could use one or more of the following options.

Creel limit. Texas currently has a statewide bag limit of one alligator gar per day. This regulation can be effective when fishing pressure is low, but will not offer sufficient protection to our populations if most anglers wish to harvest alligator gar. Further restricting harvest, particularly of large fish, which tend to be rare, could increase protection. Such an approach has been used to reduce harvest of trophy whitetail deer and red drum in Texas through the issuance of a tag. With each tag, an angler or hunter can harvest one animal per year.

Seasonal closure. TPWD currently has the authority to close waters to alligator gar fishing when conditions are appropriate for spawning. Similar regulations exist in other states to protect alligator gar during spawning, when they are most vulnerable. At these times congregations of large adult alligator gar move into very shallow waters of the floodplain and are easily approached.

Alligator gar permit. Based on recent statewide angler surveys, we estimate there could be as many as 100,000 alligator gar anglers in Texas. To successfully manage our gar fisheries, we need to know precisely how many active gar anglers we have, and how many of those desire to harvest fish. Issuance of a permit to fish for and/or harvest alligator gar is one way agencies can determine these numbers. Surveys of permitted anglers can then be used to estimate the number of fish harvested each year, similar to the Harvest Information Program (HIP) requirements for migratory birds such as waterfowl and doves. 

Harvest reporting. To track numbers of fish harvested from each population, anglers could be required to report each fish they harvest. Generally, an angler must report harvest of the fish immediately, either by calling a hotline, logging into a phone app, or registering their catch at a check station. This method can produce reliable estimates of harvest and is used for monitoring harvest of other long-lived fishes such as white sturgeon, lake sturgeon, and paddlefish in the United States.

Length limits can be used to protect specific portions of fish populations to ensure sufficient numbers of mature fish remain to reproduce or to maintain desirable sizes of fish. For long-lived species such as alligator gar, high minimum length limits (where fish below a set length cannot be harvested) and protected slot length limits (where fish within a set length range cannot be harvested) are particularly useful for these objectives. Some examples of possible length limits that could be effective for maintaining and enhancing trophy alligator gar populations include a 6-foot minimum or a 4- to 6-foot protected slot. High minimum length limits are often used to manage for catches of larger fish in species such as musky. Protected slots are useful when anglers are interested in both harvest for consumption and trophy fisheries, and have been commonly used to manage largemouth bass.

Quotas are commonly used to limit harvest of popular commercial fisheries such as red snapper and to ensure long-lived species like alligator gar, white sturgeon, lake sturgeon, and paddlefish are not overfished. Typically, the number of fish available for harvest is predetermined for a set period of time (usually a year, or season) based on population models that predict the number of fish in the population and how many can be safely removed. Often, quotas are combined with harvest reporting. Once the quota is reached, the fishery is either closed to further harvest for the season, or allowable harvest may be adjusted in following years.

Limited entry is a common approach for managing commercial fisheries and big game such as elk. Similar to a standard quota, the number of animals that can be safely taken is estimated. The main difference is that instead of allowing all interested fishers or hunters to pursue harvest until the quota is reached, some system is created to award harvest tags. For big game hunts, a limited number of tags are typically awarded for a given area. While effective in ensuring a sustainable harvest, this type of approach can limit the number of hunters or anglers that can participate.