American Fisheries Society Publishes Special Journal Section on Ancient Fishes

July 23, 2018

Contact: Martha Wilson
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American Fisheries Society publishes special section on Ancient Fishes

Alligator Gar, photo credit Solomon David.

(Bethesda, MD) July 20, 2018 – The American Fisheries Society (AFS) has published a special section of Transactions of the American Fisheries Society titled “Angling for Dinosaurs,” a series of new research articles on the biology, ecology, and conservation of ancient sport fish, specifically gars and bowfins.

“The gar and bowfin family tree dates back over 150 million years to the Jurassic period, and they have a prehistoric appearance to match,” says Dr. Solomon David, from Nicholls State University and associate editor of the special issue. “Gars and bowfins have outlasted the dinosaurs, but can they survive the modern era?”

Historically considered “trash fish” or “rough fish,” these species were subjects of eradication efforts and often hated by anglers, some were driven to local extinction. Today, however, gars and bowfins are evolving into increasingly popular sport fish, targeted by hook and line anglers, bowfishers, and even fly-fishers. Of particular interest is the giant Alligator Gar, which can grow over eight feet long and weigh more than 300 pounds.

“The biggest draw for Alligator Gar is its size and attitude when brought to the boat. They have worldwide appeal and incredible sport opportunities for rod and reel catch and release,” said Texas Alligator Gar guide Kirk Kirkland.

Compared to more “traditional” sport fish (e.g. bass, perch, salmon), fisheries knowledge and management lag far behind for these dinosaur fishes. To help address this issue, a team of fisheries scientists formed the “Ancient Sport Fish Project,” with the goal of assessing gar and bowfin populations in Illinois. Project leaders Dr. Jeff Stein and Sarah King, both from Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), and Dr. David, organized a 2016 AFS symposium, bringing together scientists from across the country to discuss the latest gar and bowfin research, creating new collaborations focusing on the unique fishery.

Based on the symposium, the new series of articles covers applications of the latest technology and analyses to better understand these fishes, as well as inform management decisions. Topics include tracking gars with radio transmitters, sonar, and environmental DNA, as well as how to more accurately age fishes that can live for several decades, even 100 years old. Scientists from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department report how the increasingly popular Alligator Gar fishery may respond to different harvest regulations.

Gar Guide Bubba Bedre recognizes the value of protecting the fishery: “It’s a unique prehistoric fish that you don’t just find anywhere. Drawing global attention and growing local sport fishing is important. Texas takes proper steps to protect a last stronghold of the Alligator Gar.”

Scientists hope the research presented in the special issue will highlight progress made in gar and bowfin fisheries research and management, as well as increase awareness of the species’ value as sport fish and components of native biodiversity. “The collection of knowledge in this special section serves as a launching point for a new era of research and management for this understudied and undervalued group of sport fish,” said Dr. Jeffrey Stein, Research Program Leader at INHS and associate editor of the special issue. “As the popularity of gars and bowfins grows among recreational anglers, we seek a better understanding of the ecology of Ancient Sport Fishes to inform sustainable management and conservation,” said Stein.

“The Ancient Sport Fishes Project seeks to build on our existing knowledge to collaborate with other scientists, managers, and anglers to shine a light on the inherent value of gars and bowfin to healthy ecosystems – this is an exciting time to be working on gars and Bowfin,” said INHS fisheries biologist, and associate editor of the special issue, Sarah King.

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Editor’s Notes:

For more information, go to the AFS Annual Meeting conference website ( or download APP (“AFSAnnualMeetings”) and follow the conference on Facebook (@AmericanFisheriesSociety) and Twitter (@AmFisheriesSoc) for the latest news and details on registration and events.

The AFS conference and associated trade show is taking place at the Atlantic City, New Jersey Convention Center and will feature keynote addresses by globally renowned fisheries scientists. Hundreds of scientific abstracts have been submitted for presentation at dozens of symposia featuring key topics and emerging issues in fisheries science. More than 1,500 fisheries scientists and professionals are expected to attend the conference this year.

AFS is dedicated to strengthening the fisheries profession, advancing fisheries science, and conserving fisheries resources. Membership is mostly drawn from the scientific community but also includes fisheries professionals such as managers, administrators, educators and consultants.


Founded in 1870, the American Fisheries Society (AFS) is the world’s oldest and largest fisheries science society. The mission of AFS is to improve the conservation and sustainability of fishery resources and aquatic ecosystems by advancing fisheries and aquatic science and promoting the development of fisheries professionals. With five journals and numerous books and conferences, AFS is the leading source of fisheries science and management information in North America and around the world.