Fish and Aquatic Conservation


Fish Make You Smarter
Young writers and painters muse over favorite fishes


Longear Sunfish
Longear Sunfish. Credit: Macey Hoggard


It all began back in 1998, inspired by a child's homework assignment, and has become one of America's most effective K-12 conservation education programs.

Launched in 1999 Wildlife Forever's State-Fish Art Program continues to teach and inspire thousands of kids across America with the free school curriculum Fish On! Using art as a tool to teach youth about fish and aquatic conservation, students learn about then create an original illustration of an official state-fish. They also compose in their own words an essay, story, or poem related to their chosen fish, its behavior, habitat, and conservation needs.

The program culminates in the nationwide State-Fish Art Contest with an annual entry deadline of March 31st. On Earth Day a diverse panel of judges selects winners for each of the four grade categories from each state and international entries. A second panel of judges determines the winning essays. The creativity and hard work of the young first place winners is recognized at the State-Fish Art EXPO each summer.

The ultimate purpose of the program is to create future stewards of our aquatic resources by connecting kids to nature—and getting them outdoors fishing. Prior to 2012 only the artwork was judged and awarded. We decided it was time to honor the science side of our contest and look for that special "spark of conservation awareness" that can be found in the written word.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Division of Fish and Aquatic Conservation partners with this award, judging the essays in the upper Grades 10-12 Category. They also present the Fish Make You Smarter Awards at the annual EXPO. The 2012 winning essays in the Grades 10-12 Category are highlighted in this article. We had a tie with two very different styles, of both writing and painting, rising to the top.

Macey Hoggard, a 10th grader from El Dorado, Arkansas, went underwater and sent out a delightful Note from a Longear Sunfish written from the fish's point of view. From Suwanee, Georgia, Arsalan Sufi's thought-provoking poem, Contradiction, was written on the fly. "While I spent almost ten hours on my artwork, I wrote my poem Contradiction in my friend's car on the way to school in less than ten minutes. My conclusion? Sometimes, we produce our greatest works on a whim. I'm not really sure why this is; it's almost . . . contradictory," she reflected in her acceptance speech.

Douglas Grann, President & CEO of Wildlife Forever is excited about the new award. "The essays are just as amazing as the art designs. In only one page I can find their personal connection to the watery world they just studied. I can 'hear' a conservation voice emerging."

To learn more about the State-Fish Art Contest please visit


Karen R. Hollingsworth manages Wildlife Forever's State-Fish Art Program. She's an award-winning wildlife photographer and is featured in numerous publications including the Smithsonian Book of
National Wildlife Refuges.


Note from a Longear Sunfish
By Macey Hoggard

Hi, just feasting on a couple of aquatic insects down here. It doesn't take many to fill me up because I am so small. I don't grow very large, much more than 4.5 inches really. Sometimes I grow a little bigger. I guess being small has its perks. I can easily hide from bigger things that might try to eat me. All of the thick vegetation that I live around helps hide me as well.

Anyway, right now, I am protecting my partner's eggs. Since I am the father, I stay here over the nest to fan the silt away from these eggs while she eats in deeper water. The babies arrived not long after they were conceived in August. There are usually about three to four thousand of them each time she lays. I have to cover them with small rocks to better protect them. I have to be sure to not harm them as well.

Finally, my partner is back. I need to go to the surface of the water to find some more bugs to eat. These bugs are the biggest part of my diet. Sometimes I go down to the bottom, near the heavy aquatic vegetation, to find other fish eggs to eat. I never eat my own, but others make for a fine meal. I have to eat soft foods because I lack teeth on my palatine bone. I also have a small mouth. So I am pretty much limited on what I consume.

Although I am lacking in the mouth area, I am a pretty fast swimmer. My anal fin has not one, not two, but three spines. My dorsal fin has at least seven spines. My fins help me swim and catch food. Now, can you guess what kind of fish I am? I am Lepomis megalotis, or the longear sunfish for short.

  Largemouth Bass
Largemouth Bass. Credit: Macey Hoggard

By Arsalan Sufi

Largemouth Bass
Known by so many names —
Southern largemouth
Micropterus salmoides
And the official fish of so many states —
the Sunshine State
the Magnolia State
the state that houses the Smoky Mountains
the state that I call home.
I can't help but wonder why.
Not at all.
dark blotches
jagged stripes
large lower jaw
incredibly aggressive
consuming small fish
preying on snails, frogs, and small birds.
What could it possibly be?
Ecological importance?
I don't think so.
You're too invasive.
You devastate ecosystems.
You do possess a niche in the environment.
You are rather majestic.
And after all, you did inspire my artwork.
You're strange.
I feel that I shouldn't respect you.
Yet in an odd way, one just as odd as this poem, I do.

Last updated: August 12, 2013