For many of our North American readers, it’s been a weekend of celebrations – Canada Day and Independence Day. In addition to fireworks and cookouts, these celebrations may bring to mind national symbols such as flags, anthems, and maybe even a national animal (beaver and bald eagle, respectively). But did you know that most states and provinces also have individual symbols recognizing their aquatic inhabitants? Impress your cookout guests with facts about some of the of-fish-ally designated state and provincial fishes!
Stars and Stripers
From sea to shining sea – and all the waters in between – North America is a land of high fish species diversity (Burkhead 2012). That diversity is not totally reflected in the species chosen by legislators to represent the various states and provinces, however! Of the 63 U.S. species, 23 are members of the family Salmonidae, with the single most common state species overall being the Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). And then it’s all about that bass – while the family Centrarchidae comes in as the second-most common family due to many states claiming the Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), the second most numerous species is the Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis, family Moronidae) which also was proposed as the national fish in Congress back in 2015.
From Sea to Shining Sea
Wait, so in the U.S., there are 63 officially-designated fish species. But aren’t there only 50 states?!, you scream at your computer screen.
Many states recognize more than one species! For example, several coastal states have both an official state freshwater and a marine fish, like New York (Brook Trout and Striped Bass), California (Golden Trout and Garibaldi), and Florida (Florida Largemouth Bass and Atlantic Sailfish). Tennessee has a state sport fish (Smallmouth Bass) as well as a state commercial fish (Channel Catfish), and Vermont has a state coldwater (Brook Trout) and warmwater (Walleye) fish. And Georgia says “hold my firecracker” by having not one, not two, but three official state fishes – Largemouth Bass, Southern Appalachian Brook Trout, and Red Drum.
Despite not being a state, Washington D.C. also recognizes an official fish – the American Shad (very appropriate for the national’s capital!)
But although many states have at least one officially recognized fish, there are a handful of states that don’t currently have a state fish: Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio. There have been pushes over the years in Iowa to make the Channel Catfish official, and Ohio does at least have a state fossil fish (Dunkleosteus), but no living species.
Of-fish-al United States Fish
Alabama – Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides, Freshwater), Fighting Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus, Saltwater)
Alaska – King Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
Arizona – Apache Trout (Oncorhynchus gilae subspecies apache)
Arkansas – Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula, Primitive)
California – Golden Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss subspecies aguabonita, Freshwater), Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus, Saltwater)
Colorado – Greenback Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii subspecies stomias)
Connecticut – American Shad (Alosa sapidissima)
Delaware – Weakfish (Cynoscion regalis)
D.C. – American Shad (Alosa sapidissima)
Florida – Florida Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides subspecies floridanus, Freshwater), Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans, Saltwater)
Georgia – Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides, Freshwater), Southern Appalachian Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis, Coldwater Game Fish), Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus, Saltwater)
Hawai’i – Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa (Rhinecanthus rectangulus) *pronounced HOO-moo-HOO-moo-NOO-koo-NOO-koo-AH-poo-AH-ah
Idaho – Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii)
Illinois – Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Indiana – None
Iowa – None
Kansas – Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
Kentucky – Kentucky Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus)
Louisiana – White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis, Freshwater), Spotted Sea Trout (Cynoscion nebulosus, Saltwater)
Maine – Landlocked Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar sebago)
Maryland – Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)
Massachusetts – Cod (Gadus morhua)
Michigan – Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Minnesota – Walleye (Sander vitreus)
Mississippi – Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)
Missouri – Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus), Paddlefish* (Polyodon spathula) *State Official Aquatic Animal
Montana – Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii subspecies lewisi)
Nebraska – Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
Nevada – Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii subspecies henshawi)
New Hampshire – Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis, Freshwater), Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis, Saltwater Game Fish)
New Jersey – Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis, Freshwater), Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis, Saltwater Game Fish)
New Mexico – Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii subspecies virginalis)
New York – Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis, Freshwater), Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis, Saltwater)
North Carolina – Channel Bass (Sciaenops ocellatus, Saltwater), Southern Appalachian Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis, Freshwater Trout)
North Dakota – Northern Pike (Esox lucius)
Ohio – None
Oklahoma– White Bass (Morone chrysops)
Oregon – Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
Pennsylvania – Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Rhode Island – Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)
South Carolina – Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)
South Dakota – Walleye (Sander vitreus)
Tennessee – Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu, Sport Fish), Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus, Commercial Fish)
Texas – Guadalupe Bass (Micropterus treculii, Freshwater), Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus, Saltwater)
Utah – Bonneville Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii subspecies utah)
Vermont – Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis, Coldwater), Walleye (Sander vitreus, Warmwater)
Virginia – Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis, Freshwater), Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis, Saltwater)
Washington – Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
West Virginia – Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Wisconsin – Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)
Wyoming – Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii)
Salmonids also dominate officially-recognized fish in The Great White North, where six of the 13 provinces and territories have an officially-recognized fish (or fishes, in the case of British Columbia which recognizes “Pacific salmon” of the genus Oncorhynchus).
Of-fish-al Canadian Fishes
Alberta – Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus)
British Columbia – Pacific salmon species (Oncorhynchus spp.)
Manitoba – Walleye (Sander vitreus)
New Brunswick – None
Newfoundland and Labrador – None
Northwest Territories – Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus)
Nova Scotia – Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Nunavut – None
Prince Edward Island – None
Québec – None
Saskatchewan – Walleye (Sander vitreus)
Yukon – None
Why have an official state/province fish?
Beyond just being fun, states and provinces often choose to designate an official state fish for a variety of reasons. In some cases, species are chosen to highlight those that provide economic or cultural benefits to the state, like Alaska’s King (Chinook) Salmon. In other cases, official state fish are chosen to highlight endemic species like Texas’s Guadalupe Bass, Nevada’s Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, or Florida’s Florida Largemouth Bass, and may bring attention to the various challenges facing these species and the aquatic ecosystems they call home (the idea of “flagship species” that can serve as the focus of conservation efforts, Veríssimo et al. 2017).
The state fish selection process can also be a way of engaging and educating the public. For example, Illinois school children selected the Bluegill as the state fish in 1986. School children were also instrumental in campaigning for Hawai’i’s state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa, which was chosen in 1984 by a public survey.
But one of my favorite examples of civic engagement comes from 10-year-old Henry Foster, whose campaign to make Alligator Gar the state fish of Arkansas (#GARkansas) led to the official designation of the species as the state fish in 2019.
- Burkhead, N. M. (2012). Extinction rates in North American freshwater fishes, 1900–2010. BioScience, 62(9), 798-808. https://doi.org/10.1525/bio.2012.62.9.5
- Veríssimo, D. et al. (2017). Increased conservation marketing effort has major fundraising benefits for even the least popular species. Biol. Conserv. 211, 95–101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2017.04.018