The alligator gar poses a serious threat to local ecosystems

An alligator gar. [Photo by YUAN WEI/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Illegally introduced into China as an aquarium fish decades ago, the alligator gar poses a serious threat to the country’s ecosystems due to a lack of natural predators, experts have said.

Gu Dang’en, a scientist with a national invasive alien species control program, said the fish was introduced to China two or three decades ago for its odd spotted appearance.

At first, the fish was smuggled into the country, he said. Since the turn of the millennium, however, they have been available via breeding.

“It is quite possible that the ‘monster’ fish from Ruzhou was bought for breeding and then released into the lake,” he said, as quoted by multiple media outlets, including the China News Service.

An alligator gar was spotted in a lake in Ruzhou in mid-July, followed by an operation to catch it.

After it became an online sensation, some online platforms pulled the fish from their shelves, but it is still available elsewhere at prices ranging from tens of yuan to several hundred, depending on size.

As a predator at the top of its food chain, the alligator gar can eat up to 5 percent of its own body weight in a day, China Central Television quoted an unnamed employee of the Pingdingshan aquarium in China as saying. Henan province.

Fish, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles and birds, as well as small mammals are its food. It’s extremely destructive to the ecosystem, the employee added.

Mu Xidong, a researcher at the Pearl River Fisheries Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Sciences, said the biosecurity law, which was approved by national legislators in October 2020 and entered into in force in April last year, states that the government should draw up a list of invasive alien species and develop regulations for their management.

Authorities unveiled a nationwide plan to carry out surveys of 10 invasive species, including the alligator gar, he said.

Ren Dapeng, a professor at China Agricultural University, said that under the Biosafety Law, institutions and individuals cannot import, release or discard alien species without official approval, and institutions and individuals incur fines of between 10,000 yuan ($1,455) and 50,000 yuan for doing so.

He said if people no longer want to keep exotic species like the alligator gar, they should send them to the authorities for safe disposal.