GARKANSAS: Henry Foster wants to make the alligator gar the state fish. Henry Foster

Today at the Arkansas legislature, lobbyists from the state’s various multi-million-dollar game fishing industries attempted to defer the dream of an eleven-year-old child. The kid won, and the alligator gar is one step closer to being the state fish.

Shamefully, Arkansas is currently one of only five states in the nation without a state fish. Henry Foster of Fayetteville first began to work to change that a year ago, when he was ten years old, and launched a campaign to make the alligator gar the state fish. Anyone who has ever had the delightful experience of seeing a gar creep along in shallow water knows that this was a fine choice. As Foster explained in his original petition, the alligator gar is “tough and unique” adding, “Don’t be a copy-catfish! Vote for Alligator Gar.”


Who could argue with that?

A bill to advance Foster’s idea passed out of committee today, but Rep. Dan Sullivan today asked that it be pulled back, caving to the pressure of adults who feel territorial about fish symbolism.


“We have heard from the minnow community, the bass community, the catfish community, and the trout community,” Sullivan told the House today. “We’re doing the best we can to make sure we vet this in the best interests of the state and the best interests of everybody involved.”

Rep. David Whitaker asked, “Where have the bass people, the trout people, and the minnow people have been for the last two years as Henry worked on this? Why didn’t they bring a bill?”


Rep. Carlton Wing said that the reason Arkansas doesn’t have a state fish is that there are so many worthy fish bringing in big money to the tourism industry that it’s not so easy to pick just one. “We don’t want to disparage the alligator gar, but there are a lot of great game fish. Let’s have that discussion back in committee,” Wing said.

Rep. Doug House, standing up for Henry (who was in the audience in the balcony), told him: “You showed up at the right time, at the right hearing, at the correct time — and if all these big money people can’t do that, that’s too bad. You did what you were supposed to do.”

The House stood up to the Big Fish lobby and soundly rejected Sullivan’s motion.

Rep. Nelda Speaks spoke against the bill and said Baxter County is known for rainbow trout, big old catfish, and fly fishing. She said that the local Chamber of Commerce spends thousands of dollars to bring in anglers. Whatever. “I hope I can reel you in to vote against this bill,” she said, laughing aloud at her own savage pun.


Whitaker sensibly countered by stating the obvious:

The designation of the alligator gar as the state game fish will not diminish the incredible beauty of the rainbow trout, nor the incredible fight of the large-mouth bass, nor the incredibly delicious taste of the catfish.

Rep. John Payton said he was voting against the bill because he just doesn’t like gar fish. No surprise.

The bill passed 54-15. It will still need to withstand the meddling grownups in the Senate.

For more on the alligator gar, I recommend this riveting 2013 account from a federal Fish and Wildlife biologist who shares Foster’s enthusiasm. A sample:

For nearly one-half century, people have given Alligator Gar a bad reputation as a “trash fish.” When people ask us “Why are you raising Alligator Gar at Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery?”, we try to explain how as the largest, native, freshwater predator in North American these fish are a possible means to control the populations of invasive species such as the Silver and Bighead Carp. We go on to explain how in the 1950’s Arkansas was known for the Alligator Gar fishing and people came from all over the country to catch a six to eight foot fish on a rod and reel. Nowadays, anglers from around the world are flocking to Texas to try their hand at catching an Alligator Gar to brag about. After addressing the biological and economic importance of Alligator Gar, people then ask, “Don’t they eat all the Bass, Bream, and Crappie that I’m trying to catch”? Being scientists, we refer to studies that have been done on Alligator Gar diets to answer this question. We tell our visitors that the studies show a higher percentage of the Alligator Gar’s diet are made up of Shad, Carp, Buffalo, and Catfish. The final question most folks ask is “Can you eat them?” My standard answer is this is Louisiana; we eat anything that doesn’t eat us first.