Because they feed upon or compete for food with more “desirable” fishes, gars are often considered a worthless nuisance. But they may also serve as a natural control in preventing overpopulation and unbalanced fish populations, which improves fisheries and aquatic ecosystems in general.
The alligator gar is one of the few native fishes that reaches a size large enough to help control invasive, human-introduced Asian carp, which is one big reason many conservation departments are working to reintroduce it and prevent further decline.
Many people believe Missouri should declare the alligator gar endangered, so that it can be protected from overfishing and its numbers increased or at least stabilized. For many reasons unrelated to its value in balancing the ecosystem against invasive Asian carp, people instinctively fear this gar, and efforts to protect it can be a tough “sell” for conservationists.
Historically, Native Americans used the tough scales, and the scale-covered skins, of alligator gar for arrowheads, as a tough covering for plows, and in breastplates. Settlers tanned the skin and used it as a tough leather covering for wooden tools and for making purses.
Alligator gar have a fierce look, and they have often been blamed for attacking people — but there are no authenticated attacks. There have been occasional injuries, however, when people attempt to capture these large, strong fish, and the fish thrash around on boats.
Gar are seldom taken on hook and line and are rarely used for food. The hard, bony jaws of gars do not readily take a hook, and special techniques are required to capture them consistently with rod and reel. Because they often bask near the surface, gars provide a ready target for the bow hunter, and they have been gaining in popularity as a sport fish. The large size of alligator gars generally causes them to ruin nets.
Some species of gars have been kept as aquarium fish, but this species — capable of reaching 6 feet or more in length — would require a room-sized tank. In Missouri, anyone with a fishing permit can possess native nongame species in aquaria, if they are collected according to the rules outlined in the Wildlife Code of Missouri.
In regions where they are more numerous, alligator gar are harvested, and even farmed, for commercial purposes. People make various craft items, such as earrings or lamp shades, out of the unusual ganoid scales.
The eggs (roe) of gar are highly toxic to warm-blooded animals, including humans.
Alligator gar have been caught in places far from their native North American range, including Turkmenistan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and India. In almost all these cases, they were apparently released by aquarium hobbyists. Never release aquarium fish or plants into native waters!