Fishermen catch prehistoric-looking fish with sharp teeth in Tri-Cities

Alligator Ga
Photo courtesy of Anton Reutov via WDFW

RICHLAND, Wash. — A couple prehistoric-looking fish with sharp teeth were caught in the Yakima River Delta near Bateman Island — a long way from their natural habitat.

Two commercial fishermen were carp fishing in the delta, which feeds into the Columbia River, when two strange fish swam into their nets on April 13, according to Paul Hoffarth, a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The fish were two to three feet long and clearly not native to the Pacific Northwest.

Hoffarth said the fishermen sent him a video of the fish, and he determined that they appear to be alligator gars.

According to USGS, alligator gars are native to the Mississippi River basin from southwestern Ohio and southern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, and to the Gulf Coastal Plain from Florida to Mexico. They can reach nearly 10 feet in length.

After taking the video, the fishermen put the gars back into the Yakima River since they were only licensed to catch carp. Their fishing permit has since been amended to allow them to remove gars from the river.

So how did the gars end up in a Pacific Northwest river hundreds of miles away from where they live in the wild?

Hoffarth guesses that someone bought the fish for their personal aquarium, then tossed them into the river once they got too big. He said aquarium fish normally don’t survive in Washington rivers.

WDFW is working to monitor fish populations in the Tri-Cities area to ensure this non-native fish is not creating a problem for local ecosystems.