Manitobans are being invited to help choose the province's first official fish.

And here's the hook — 20 complimentary fishing licences for next year's season will be awarded to those who submit the most compelling personal stories and the top three will also be posted online and in Manitoba's angling guide.

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The walleye is among the many fish species found in Manitoba. (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Eric Engbretson)

"Selecting a provincial fish recognizes the important role of fishing to our province, culturally and economically," Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said Friday, announcing the contest and the opening of the fishing season in southern Manitoba for Saturday.

"Manitobans have some of the best fishing opportunities in the world, with access to more than 30 species of sport fish in diverse habitats across the province and the opportunity to see more than 60 other species in their native habitats.

"I want Manitobans to consider the value of our conservation efforts by providing them an opportunity to make a case for the fish they believe best represents our fishing heritage."

Beginning Saturday, Manitobans can go online and nominate a fish on the province's conservation website.

The nomination process allows Manitobans to select a fish species and encourages them to share personal stories and explain why their fish of choice should be the provincial one.

Nominations will be reviewed by a committee of volunteers who share a passion for fishing in the province.  The committee will recommend the top two species to government for a final decision.

Manitoba has the third most diverse freshwater fish population of all provinces and more than 80 of Manitoba's native fish will be considered as candidates, Mackintosh said.

The deadline for nominations is Feb. 1, 2014.

Once selected, the provincial fish will be proposed for official adoption as an amendment to the Coat of Arms, Emblems and the Manitoba Tartan Act, Mackintosh said.

The fish will also become prominent in tourism advertising and fishing publications.

Other official provincial symbols:

  • The provincial flower is the prairie crocus (adopted in 1906).
  • The provincial bird is the great gray owl (1987).
  • The provincial tree is the white spruce (1991).
  • The provincial soil is Newdale soil (2010).
  • The province unofficially recognizes the bison as the provincial animal.

Other provinces have an official fish, including British Columbia (pacific salmon), Alberta (bull trout), Saskatchewan (walleye), Northwest Territories (arctic grayling).