Push on to make catfish a Kansas state symbol
Hutchinson Some supporters of the lowly channel catfish are renewing efforts to make the species become a state symbol, despite past failed attempts.
Bills to designate it as a state symbol have been introduced in Senate and House committees after the fish was nominated by Robin Jennison, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, The Hutchinson News reported.
"I think the reasons it is an important fish are recreational and personal," said Doug Nygren, fisheries section chief for the wildlife department. "They are found in almost every stream in the state. If you ask anglers what is the preferred species to fish for, catfish are in the top five almost every time."
Charlie Wallace, who has a fish farm near Allen in Lyon County, is one of the catfish's biggest supporters. He said he's worked for years to have the catfish become a state symbol alongside the sunflower, the buffalo and box turtle. He was part of the last failed attempt in the 1990s, when the catfish was championed by Olpe High School's history class and others.
"We thought we had it covered," Wallace said of getting the declaration. "You'd think it would fly right through or swim right though. But it just hasn't happened."
A few people opposed to the designation suggested rarer species like the Topeka shiner or see the channel catfish as a lesser species.
"They see it as a scum-sucking, bottom-dwelling, second-class fish," Wallace said.
The channel catfish has a significant history in Kansas. A century ago, Seth Way, a state employee in Pratt, worked with a commercial fisher to find a way to mass produce the species, a method that is still used across the nation.
Supporters note the catfish's contribution to the state's economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists four "aquaculture" operations in the state in 2013 with total sales of $571,850, with catfish a big portion of it.
Wallace said surveys show channel catfish are the most popular species to fish for in the state, but also recognizes that lawmakers face more pressing issues.
"The slightest bit of controversy and these legislators that are looking down the barrel of all this stuff that is much more significant than the state fish ... and they will walk away from it," he said.