GARkansas: 10-Year-Old Launches Campaign for Arkansas State Fish

Ten-year-old Henry Foster is the unlikely force behind a new campaign to right a wrong in the world of ichthyology. Not too long ago Henry discovered that the state of Arkansas has no state fish – there is a state bird (mockingbird), gem (diamond) and even soil type (Stuttgart) – but Arkansas is only one of four states without a designated fish. So Henry did what any enterprising kid would do – he (with the help of his mother) launched a campaign to fix that problem. 

Henry Foster posing with his favorite freshwater fish. Photo: Melissa Foster

Armed with a Facebook page, Twitter account, the social media hashtag #GARkansas and a portfolio of hand-drawn illustrations of his favorite fish, Henry set out to persuade state lawmakers to pick alligator gar, a fish that boasts a lineage back to the Cretaceous as the state’s scaly symbol. We here at the Center for Limnology reached out to Henry’s mom, Melissa, and she put us in contact with her determined son so that we could ask him a few questions. Suffice it to say that, after our conversation, we are fully on the #GARkansas bandwagon.
You should be, too, and you can go support Henry’s quest here. And also enjoy this interview with Henry,
CFL: What is it about alligator gar that you find so interesting?
Henry: I think the alligator gar is so cool because they are unique, unlike the large mouth bass or the channel catfish. Also I think their teeth are unreal and they look like the sharp part of a tack. I also like the fact that they have been around since the time of the dinosaurs.
CFL: Have you ever caught a gar or held one? What was that like?
Henry: I have never held a gar before or caught a gar with reel and rod, but I have seen gar at the aquarium so therefore I can see the texture and know kind of what a gar would feel like. I imagine they feel pretty rough & scaly, but still smooth.
CFL: How did you get the idea to campaign for Arkansas to adopt a state fish? 
Henry: How I got the idea to have a state fish for Arkansas is I remember the state fish of Hawaii was the reef triggerfish so I wondered if Arkansas had a state fish. So I looked it up on the internet, and it turned out Arkansas had no state fish. I thought, “I can solve that problem.”
CFL: What has it been like to get news interviews and lots of attention for #GARkansas?
Henry: It has been kind of scary being on the news and the paper, and there are all kinds of people that will see you, and might think negative things about me. At the end of the day it was worth it because many people began to support me out of the blue.
CFL: What do your friends and family think of all of this? 
Henry: All of my family members are supporting GARkansas. Even grown ups that don’t care a thing about fish supported GARkansas, and have said they liked the campaign for the Alligator Gar.
CFL: What do you like to do when you’re not campaigning for gar?
Henry: When I am not campaigning for the gar I go tho the aquarium and watch gar. Most of my life is becoming gar. I also like to learn about all kinds of other fish and corals.

CFL: What do you want to be when you grow up? 

Henry: When I grow up I want to be a marine biologist or an ichthyologist. I love all creatures that live in lakes, rivers or oceans.
CFL: I love your illustrations. Do you have any tips for drawing a gar?
Henry: I have some tips for drawing gar. 1. Always start with the mouth 2. Draw diamond shape scales to make the gar have some texture 3. Any part of the mouth you don’t do any thing to shade with black 4. Make the pectoral fish in a large triangle.
CFL: Is there anything you want to tell other kids who might want to start something like this?
Henry: I would like to tell other kids to never give up and to have perseverance on things they enjoy.
It should be noted, too, that here’s how Henry signed off on his correspondence with me:

Best reGARds,

I think it’s safe to say that we should all get behind #GARkansas – so help Henry’s campaign and sign the petition here.
We’ll keep you updated on progress!