COLUMBUS (WCMH) – You’re likely familiar with some of Ohio’s state symbols. Our state tree is the Ohio Buckeye, our state bird is the cardinal, and our state flower is the red carnation.
Ohio even has a state gemstone (Ohio Flint), a state fossil (Isotelus) and a state prehistoric monument (Newark Earthworks). But there is one common symbol left unrecognized in Ohio’s record books: a state fish.
Despite its borders being carved by a major river and a Great Lake, Ohio is one of three states (Indiana and Iowa are the others) to not have a state fish.
Even desert states like Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico have state fish (all trout). Some states have multiple state fishes (freshwater and saltwater), and Georgia even has a state cold water game fish.
But despite being home to more than 29,000 miles of river, 60,000 miles of stream and 312 miles of Lake Erie shoreline, Ohio is symbolically fishless.
Despite rich fishing culture, past proposals have stalled
“Over the years, we’ve heard different species proposed,” said Scott Hale, executive administrator of fish management and research for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife.
State symbols are enacted via bills passed by the Ohio General Assembly and signed by the governor, but state fish legislation has not swum easily despite Ohio having such a deep and diverse fishing tradition.
“Sport fishing in Ohio has long been important to Ohioans,” Hale said, “It’s sort of part of the fabric of our society.”
What should be Ohio’s state fish?
ODNR sells nearly 1 million fishing licenses a year, Hale said, from annual resident licenses to one-day tourist licenses. He estimates more than 2.5 million people buy an Ohio fishing license in a five-year period.
“Sport fisheries have an economic impact of about $2.9 billion” on Ohio as of 2011, Hale said, adding that they support 26,000 jobs.
So, why doesn’t Ohio have a state fish? It may be because there are so many worthy species to choose from.
A 2003 article in The (Lorain) Morning Journal describes a fight that began in the 1980s between walleye anglers in northern Ohio and bass anglers down south about which of the two major species should grace the list of state symbols.
“Ever since,” the piece reads, “lawmakers could count on at least one state fish bill per two-year session, and the sponsors could count on their demise.”
ODNR’s stream fishing and sport fishing guides list dozens of species, including walleye and bass. Hale noted bluegill, crappie, saugeye, steelhead, catfish, muskellunge and trout, among other popular species.
He declined, however, to dip a toe into the waters of the state fish debate.
“I am our executive administrator of fish management and research, and I have to tell you that I love all fish,” he said. “So, I’m not going to enter that discussion.”
The last Ohio symbol passed into law was the state artifact, the Adena Pipe, in 2013. No state fish legislation is currently active in Ohio or Indiana, but a bill introduced this year in the Iowa Senate would declare the channel catfish that state’s fish.