By Karen Rice
Our Kid Hero this month, Henry F., is a big fan of fish. You might say he’s a FIN-ATIC! He says he can’t even get near a body of water without peering down to look for fish. He likes to go fishing, likes to visit aquariums, has two aquariums at home, and likes to read about fish. He is also a member of the fly fishing club at McNair Middle School and hopes to be an ichthyologist (fish scientist) when he grows up.
So when the eleven-year-old fifth grader from Fayetteville found out that Arkansas was one of only four states that didn’t have an official state fish, he knew he had to do something about it.
Over the summer, Henry drafted a resolution to make the Alligator Gar the State Fish of Arkansas. He sent the resolution off to his new friend and gar expert, Dr. Solomon David at Nichols State University in Louisiana, to have it checked for scientific accuracy.
Henry set up a Facebook page and Twitter account, and the social media hashtag #Garkansas and began his campaign to persuade state lawmakers and the public to support his cause. Since then, Henry has been attending legislative meetings, writing post cards, collecting signatures (more than 2,600 of them), drawing GARtoons, passing out stickers and pencils at the Fayetteville Farmer’s market, all to benefit a kind of scary-looking freshwater fish. He has even appeared on TV and on a podcast!
Last month, the bill to make the Alligator Gar the state fish, (HB1640) passed the House and was on it’s way to the Senate. Also last month, Henry received the AGATE Youth Challenger Award for his efforts on behalf of the Alligator Gar.
Official Kids Mag caught up with Henry recently and asked him some questions about his strange and scaly quest.
OKM: What made you interested in making the Alligator Gar the State fish?
Henry: One day, while riding in the car, I was thinking about how Hawaii has a species of trigger fish as its state fish. And I asked my mom if Arkansas has a state fish. She handed me the phone to look it up, and I realized that Arkansas does NOT have a state fish. I am fascinated by Alligator Gar, so I thought that it would make a great state fish.
OKM: What is it about the Alligator Gar that makes it worthy of being the state fish?
Henry: I love how so many people can recognize an Alligator Gar, and that so many people have personal stories and experiences with the Alligator Gar. I also like that Alligator Gar are the largest fish in Arkansas, no other state has the Alligator Gar as their State Fish, they have been around since the time of the dinosaurs and are “living fossils”, and they have large sharp teeth that make them fierce like a Razorback. And, Arkansas is one of the few states that has Alligator Gar present.
OKM: Why do you think it’s important to do this?
Henry: Alligator Gar’s numbers are decreasing due to loss of habitat and over fishing. If this bill passes, perhaps we can work to conserve them and encourage more people to enjoy them as a “catch and release” fish.
OKM: What did you learn while doing the project?
Henry: I have learned many new gar facts like that Native Americans used gar scales as arrow heads, that some people like to eat gar, and the fact that they can grow to be 10 feet long and weigh 300 pounds. I have also learned how a bill becomes a law in the State of Arkansas, as well as who my local legislators are.
OKM: Where there any things you didn’t expect?
Henry: I really didn’t think that so many people would be behind the gar. In one year we were able to collect 2625 signatures on our Change.org petition. I thought that, when I wrote the original letter to my local legislators, that they would just reply “thank you for your thoughts and we will look into it”. However, they actually supported it and worked to make it an actual bill (HB1640) that could become a law. Also, I have been able to meet and FaceTime with fish scientists, recorded a podcast with Senator Greg Leding, presented at an assembly for my entire elementary school, and work a booth at the Farmer’s Market.