It's Catch-and-Release for Catfish in Arkansas House

LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- The Diana Fritillary butterfly, the honeybee and the white-tail deer won't have another critter joining them in the menagerie of animals honored as Arkansas symbols.

With concerns that the bill would leave trout and small-mouthed bass adrift, a House committee rejected a measure Friday that would have designated the blue catfish as Arkansas' official fish.

Rep. Gregg Reep's largely symbolic bill failed by a whisker; it was one vote shy of passage in the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. The Democrat from Warren says he proposed the designation because his son, a college history major, suggested it.

After the vote, Reep said he was "sorry to crush the dreams of a 20-year-old."

By coincidence, the vote came on Catfish Friday in the Capitol cafeteria. The bill spawned a light-hearted debate, during which Rep. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, urged Reep to think of the children.

"I've got a 4-year-old boy ... and every night, before he goes to bed, he prays for the penguins and the otters and the muskrats and he also prays for the small-mouth bass," Dismang said. "And I would just really appreciate your consideration on this bill. Should we not try to do the best we can for a 4-year-old's prayers?"

Reep noted that the blue catfish — which are typically found in large rivers and reservoirs and can weigh more than 100 pounds — was first documented in the Arkansas River in the state in the 16th century.

"I just thought we needed a state fish, and that's why I filed the bill," he said. "And I think the blue catfish would be a great one."

Committee members baited Reep by asking whether he hoped to protect the fish from anglers.

"Do you think we should prohibit the fishing of this national treasure?" asked Rep. Clark Hall, D-Marvell, to which Reep responded: "No sir."

Most states recognize an official fish. Texas honors the guadalupe bass, while Louisiana likes the white perch. But in a state where fishing is king and the catch-of-the-day varies from rainbow trout in northern Arkansas to the flathead catfish in the southern part of the state, lawmakers were hesitant to cast one fish above the others.

Reep couldn't hook Rep. Karen Hopper, R-Mountain Home, who paused when it came time for her to vote on the measure.

"I guess it's a no after all," she said. "I come from trout country."

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