How To Trocl A Fish

TO WIT

June 13, 1993|By DAVE BARRY

I have good news for you "anglers" concerning ongoing scientific efforts to make fish stupider.

We need stupider fish because fishing is an important industry, one that pumps $867.4 million annually into the U.S. economy.

Millions of Americans enjoy angling, although I am not one of them. My feeling is if you go fishing, you are running the risk that you will catch a fish. Mother Nature never intended this to happen, which is why she gave fish an outer covering that feels as though a big sick man named "Lester" has just blown his nose on it.

Mother Nature intended for the human-fish encounter to occur in the restaurant environment, where the fish has been formed into a rectangle and covered with bread and fried until it could also be chicken.

Also, there is the problem of bait. The last time I angled, a friend of mine provided the bait, which turned out to be shrimp. I always thought of shrimp as being benign little comma-shaped things that congregate on ice in bowls in the cocktail-party environment. But when I looked into Jim's bait bucket, I saw these insects from space. They had about 157 legs apiece and antennae and eye stalks. They were striding around in a very irate manner. These were not benign creatures. These creatures could be used as security guards.

I had to repeatedly stick my hand into that bucket. I had no choice. My son was watching, and I didn't want him to think I was a coward. Instead, he thought I was stupid. There's no way he would have stuck his hand in there.

Fortunately, nothing happened to me. You don't read much about shrimp attacks on humans, but this is only because wealthy seaside-resort owners use their influence to keep them out of the news.

But millions of people like to fish, and they will be pleased to learn that officials of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are working -- according to Dallas Morning News stories sent in by alert readers Dick Barbosa and Kathy Richards -- to reduce the intelligence of bass. But apparently they're still too intelligent, at least in Texas, where an alarming number of bass are failing to allow anglers to catch them, thereby wrecking the sport.

So the wildlife officials have been selecting easy-to-catch bass, breeding them, then repeating the process. Each generation is getting stupider; the officials hope some day to develop a bass that will watch the "Home Shopping Club."

I'm kidding, of course. The bass will never be that stupid. But they are getting easier to catch. I hope this solves the problem because wildlife officials would face many hurdles in any attempt to breed smarter anglers.

Another player in the fish-improvement field is Dr. Arthur N. Popper, chairman of the University of Maryland zoology department, who according to a Baltimore Sun article sent in by Laurie McLain, is trying to teach rockfish to come when called.

Rockfish are raised in large quantities on commercial fish farms. The problem, according to the article, is that the fish tend to scatter all over the pond, and when their food is dumped in, it gets lost in the bottom muck before the rockfish can locate it. So Dr. Popper is planning experiments to see if rockfish can be trained to swim toward an electronic hum, so they could be called together for feeding.

The article has a picture of Dr. Popper leaning thoughtfully over a tank containing some rockfish, who appear to be looking right at him, as though trying to communicate the concept: "Hey! Dr. Popper! We're fish! We don't have any ears!"

This is true, but Dr. Popper thinks they can hear anyway. I wish him the best, and I'd suggest that, if the electronic hum doesn't work, he might try the sounds that we use in our house to summon our dogs, Earnest and Zippy, when their food is ready. We've had excellent results with:

"Down! No! Get Down! Get Down Right Now!!"

Earnest and Zippy are extremely good at being on hand when food appears. It's their only skill. Maybe Dr. Popper could figure out a way to take genes from my dogs and combine them with genes from a rockfish to produce a fish that would be on hand for feeding time. Of course it would be way too stupid to swim.

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