The 2022 Arkansas Conservation License Plate.

A colorful longear sunfish will be featured on next year’s Arkansas Conservation License Plate, as announced at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

The plate, designed by AGFC Graphic Artist Greta James, showcases the color of one of Arkansas’s most charismatic and often overlooked species of gamefish.

AGFC Fisheries Chief Ben Batten said the longear sunfish was chosen because of its bright blue and orange markings that rival the colors of many fish found in coral reefs and saltwater and its prominence as many Arkansas youth’s first catch.

The Conservation License Plate program began in 2000 and has provided more than $18 million for scholarships and conservation education efforts in Arkansas since its inception. The program has topped $1 million each year since 2008. The longear sunfish is the fifth aquatic species to be featured on a Conservation License Plate. The previous four were largemouth bass (2002), rainbow trout (2005), black crappie (2012) and smallmouth bass (2015). It will be available beginning in January at Department of Finance and Administration offices throughout the state.

The Commission also unanimously approved to instate a “catch-and-release” regulation for all game fish species in Mercer Bayou in Sulphur River Wildlife Management Area in Miller County. The fishery recently underwent a renovation which required a temporary drawdown.

Before the drawdown was complete all limits were removed from the lake to allow area anglers to make the most use of the resource. As it refills, game fish species must now be allowed to reestablish healthy populations to rebuild the health of this productive waterbody in southwest Arkansas.

In other business, the commission heard from Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation President Deke Whitbeck on the results of the recent South Arkansas Outdoor Social at the Southern Arkansas University’s Laney Farm.

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