More 'monster fish' on the loose: sightings of alligator gar emerge in 8 Chinese provinces

Mandy Zuo in Shanghai, South China Morning Post

Posted at Aug 30 2022 06:32 AM

An alligator gar fish swims in a tank in the aquarium at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore on July 19, 2022. Roslan Rahman/ AFP
An alligator gar fish swims in a tank in the aquarium at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore on July 19, 2022. Roslan Rahman/ AFP

The ‘monster’ alligator gar has captivated China after a month-long hunt for one culminated in the draining of an entire lake last week

Since then there have been widespread reports of further captures and sightings across the country

Sightings of alligator gar - dubbed “monster fish” in mainland China - which authorities fear could trigger an ecological disaster have been reported in at least eight provinces.

This followed the draining of an entire lake in central China on the weekend that eventually caught a pair of the invasive fish species.

The large species of freshwater fish, which has razor-sharp teeth and can grow up to three meters long, has captivated the nation after a high-profile, month-long hunt for it that culminated in the draining of an entire lake in the city of Ruzhou in Henan.

Now other parts of the country, including capital city Beijing, have reported the existence of the previously little-known fish, which many fear could harm local residents and the environment as it has few natural predators.

Normally found in North and Central America and believed to have entered China through the exotic pet trade, a male and a female alligator gar, measuring 70 and 90 centimeters respectively, were caught and received “harmless treatment” in the Ruzhou lake on Saturday.

The capture came after a month-long search was triggered following a sighting by a local resident and a video of the fish appeared online in July.

City workers emptied the over 200,000-cubic-metre lake last week after large fishing nets and a sonar locator failed to capture the elusive beast.

In Kunming, capital city of southwestern China’s Yunnan province, workers also drained a pond in a residential community on Friday to catch an alligator gar, which had led to the disappearance of smaller fishes and crustaceans living there, state television CCTV reported.

In Jingjiang in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, a boy suffered a finger wound after reportedly being bitten by the fish in a pond at a residential compound, the Jingjiang Daily reported on August 18.

In another compound in Beijing, residents caught a 50-centimetre- long “alligator” that turned out to be an alligator gar, the Beijing Daily reported on August 1.

Other places reporting similar sightings recently included Hunan, Guangxi, Ningxia, Qinghai and Shandong, according to local media.

The growing presence of the non-native species is believed to mainly be the result of releases by people who had bought the fish as a pet, experts said.

“The most common invasive animals we found to have been released are fishes like alligator gars. Red-eared sliders and alligator snapping turtles are also common,” Li Li, head of a Beijing-based wildlife protection organisation told the Beijing Daily.

The exotic fish can be bought for just a few dozen yuan on some online shopping websites including the major wholesale site 1688.com.

One of the largest freshwater fish commonly found in the southern part of the US and Mexico, the torpedo-shaped fish is often known as a “living fossil” as its existence can be traced back to over 100 million years ago.

Though reports about attacks on people are rare, they pose a passive threat as its eggs are poisonous to humans if ingested. Chinese authorities have listed it as one of the 10 major invasive organisms threatening China’s ecosystem.