COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Although known for their home in Lake Erie, walleye are on the move in Columbus.
Northern Ohio’s famous sportfish won NBC4’s online poll to be proposed as the state fish, earning 27.5% of the nearly 1,000 votes cast among nine choices.
Ohio doesn’t have a state fish in the first place partly because past debates between the walleye and smallmouth bass stalled progress in the legislature. 20.6% of voters in NBC4’s poll chose the smallmouth, placing it third, just behind the yellow perch.
After poll results were final, NBC4 reached out to every state lawmaker whose district borders Lake Erie. State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) volunteered to carry an official bill as its primary sponsor.
“I was very surprised that we didn’t have an Ohio fish,” said Fedor, a 21-year veteran of the Ohio legislature. She had joined past debates when walleye were up against smallmouth bass, but no bill went through the whole process.
“We have a lot of official insects, amphibians and so forth, so it’s time to have an official Ohio fish,” she said. “And it’s a great way for people to come together in a positive way and really get that done.”
Erie is the shallowest Great Lake, providing a natural fishery that attracts anglers worldwide, and walleye account for 85% of the fish caught there, said Scott Hale, executive administrator of fish management and research for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife.
“Even though it’s a very important, very popular multispecies fishery, walleye are a lot of fun to catch, and they’re great to eat, and they’re abundant right now,” he said.
Walleye also hold a cultural significance in northern Ohio, including the Toledo Walleye minor league hockey team and the city dubbed the “Walleye Capital of the World,” Port Clinton.
Fedor, a Toledo native and University of Toledo graduate, said she even has a taxidermy walleye in her statehouse office.
“I display it very prominently, very proudly in my legislative office,” she said.
A bill’s early steps: Idea, drafting, co-sponsorship
One of the goals with this project is to take people through the entire legislative process, from drafting to passage and steps in between. Fedor said many bills originate as ideas from the public, including polls like NBC4’s.
“That’s how it’s supposed to work,” she said. “We’re supposed to be paying attention to what the people want.”
But first, the bill needs to be written, which is where the state fish bill is now. Fedor’s office this week sent a simple request to the nonpartisan Ohio Legislative Service Commission, whose writers and researchers will put the basic idea – that Ohio’s state fish should be the walleye – into the proper legalese.
“This (project) is something that a lot of people can learn how a bill becomes a law, and they can watch the sausage being made,” said Fedor, who used to be a fourth grade government teacher.
State Sen. Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) volunteered to be the eventual bill’s first co-sponsor, a lawmaker who declares their official support. And state Rep. Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon) will introduce identical legislation – called a “companion bill” – in the House.
Fedor also put out a call for more co-sponsors, and the public, too, can encourage their local state lawmakers to join.
“Citizens can call their legislators to add their name to a bill,” she said, “and also email and write to ask their legislators to sign on to a particular bill that’s going in for a co-sponsorship.”
If passed, Ohio would become the fourth state with walleye as its state fish, joining Minnesota, South Dakota and Vermont. And it would leave Indiana and Iowa as the only states without official fish.
After the Legislative Service Commission drafts this bill, it will get a number and be assigned to a committee. But that update will come once it happens, and then Fedor and her colleagues can start to see just how far their bill may swim.