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Kaskaskia River a battleground over return of alligator gar to ecosystem

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NEW ATHENS, IL (KTVI) – The Kaskaskia River is a relaxing retreat and a place many recreational boaters go for fishing and a good time each year. However, some are worried the release of more alligator gar in these waters will intimidate people and keep them away.

"They're going to run into one of these alligator gars and a mom is going to get scared to death, and they're never going to come back to the river to boat again," said Kay Neal, Commodore of the Kaskaskia Mariners Association.

They came with those fears to an informational meeting in New Athens’ Bull Pen.

Illinois State Representative Jerry Costello II and officials with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources made their case that the alligator gar, which have a face like an alligator and could grow larger than seven-feet long and over 100 pounds, are harmless.

"There's way more shark attacks in the ocean and, like I said, there's been no documented attacks in history from alligator gar on people," said Dan Stephenson, Chief of Fisheries with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources

They want to bring the alligator gar back to the area for biodiversity and fishermen tourism – it's considered a trophy fish. The alligator gar was declared extinct in the state in the 1990s. The reintroduction is part of an effort by several surrounding states, including Missouri.

Several hundred alligator gar have already been released into the Kaskaskia River over recent years. But some say they don't want anymore, there's already an invasive fish to boaters – the Asian carp.

Stephenson said there is a slim chance alligator gar could prey on the carp but not enough to eradicate the water pests.

Many people were concerned of the cost to taxpayers in Illinois to reintroduce the fish. The IDNR
said all the money need to bring this native fish back is from fishing license sales.

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