Gars (Lepisosteidae) and bowfin (Amia calva) are among North America’s most primitive native fishes. Often thought of as “trash fish,” these species have had a bad rap for decades — thought to negatively impact more desirable sport fish through predation and competition. Research has shown, however, that these top predators play a very important role in maintaining balance and diversity throughout the ecosystem.
Bowfishing enthusiasts commonly target gars and bowfin, and even as the popularity of bowfishing in Illinois continues to grow, there are currently no bag limits or size regulations for these ancient sport fish in Illinois. Therefore, to manage ancient sport fish and provide a sustainable fishery, a basic understanding of population demographics (size and age structure, growth, mortality, etc.) is needed.
Beginning in 2015, the Sport Fish Ecology Lab began a statewide Gar and Bowfin Demographics Study, in which we are gathering valuable data regarding the age, growth, mortality, and body condition of these important top predators. By working with bowfishing clubs and anglers to collect data, as well as conducting standard fish sampling in partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, we will evaluate the status of these populations and provide managers with the objective data needed to evaluate bowfishing impacts on Illinois ancient sport fish. Such data will allow managers to make informed decisions regarding the need (if any) for active management strategies, ensuring a sustainable and enjoyable fishery for years to come.