Channel Catfish Could Be Next State Symbol for Kansas

These days, it’s good to be a channel catfish in Kansas. State wildlife officials are hoping to get the species listed with the sunflower, buffalo, and box turtle as a state symbol, and the official fish of the Jayhawk State.

An article from Kansas Agland says Robin Jennison, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism nominated the fish and that there were recently several bills addressing the topic introduced to both state Senate and House committees.

“I think the reasons it is an important fish are recreational and personal,” Doug Nygren, fisheries section chief for the Kansas Department of Wildlife said. “They are found in almost ever stream in the state. If you ask anglers what is the preferred species to fish for, catfish are in the top five almost ever time.”

Unfortunately, history proves the fish’s road to stardom is not going to be easy. A similar initiative failed in the 1990s. At that time, Charlie Wallace, a fish farmer in Lyon County, and the Olpe High School’s history class spearheaded the effort and thought the channel cat would be a shoo-in, but others testified against the proposal and recommended rarer species like the Topeka shiner.

“They see it [catfish] as a scum-sucking, bottom-dwelling, second-class fish,” Wallace said.

Those involved with the latest push hope decision-makers consider the catfish’s role in Kansas’ history. About 100 years ago, catfish weren’t as widespread. That changed thanks to Seth Way, a state employee in Pratt who uncovered a better way to reproduce the species and mass production ensued. Pratt then worked with W.E. “Bus” Hartley to start a commercial fish operation in 1946. The rest, they say, is history, and recent creel studies indicate the channel catfish as the most popular game-fish species in the state.

Naturally, there may be more pressing issues facing state legislators than the matter of designating a state fish, so nobody involved is holding their breath for a decision.

“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,” Wallace said.