Only In America . . . TM

Copyright © 2002 Frank G. Van Atta. All rights reserved.


Beginning next month the government is going to require that safe handling instructions be printed on all fish that live in public waters. The new legislation was prompted by the recent salmonella outbreak in the Midwest caused by eating tainted fish.

"Too many fishermen don't know how to handle fish properly after they're caught," according to Wylie Quail, spokesman for the Department of the Interior. "To rectify this situation, we are going to make sure that every game fish swimming in public waters has a label affixed to it explaining the proper methods of cleaning, transporting and storing fresh fish," he said.

Department of the Interior personnel are already getting ready for the big fish labeling project. They have ordered 500 million full size labels to be put on adult fish, 300 million smaller, flexible labels to be put on fingerlings and smaller fish, and 7 billion special, micro-dot sized labels to fit on fish eggs.

"The new micro-labels are a real technological breakthrough," according to Donald Fittingham, head of Label Research and Development. "They're made from a special, synthetic material that grows with the fish."

"These labels start out as little round dots so small that several thousand of them will fit on the head of a pin," he explained, "but as the egg hatches and the fish grows, so does the label. By the time the fish is large enough to be legally caught, the instructions will be completely legible, and the label turns a bright, fluorescent orange."

The orange label is easily visible from more than a hundred yards, providing an easy way for game wardens to spot illegal fish from a distance and enforce game and fish laws without getting out of their cars.

The labels will be put on with a nontoxic glue so that larger game fish won't get sick from eating eggs or smaller fish.

The labeling project will begin in the Northwest, where volunteers will fan out through the salmon spawning grounds and put micro-labels on all salmon eggs as soon as they are laid. Adult salmon won't need to be labeled because they die immediately after spawning.

Meanwhile, special crews will seine every river and stream in America and put labels on all the game fish, divers will be sent into the lakes to label all the fish there, and fingerlings and eggs will be labeled in all fish hatcheries.

"We think the entire operation can be completed in about three months," Quail said. "Then we can start labeling saltwater fish inside the 200-mile limit."

But there are still a number of questions to be answered about how the saltwater operation will be done. Are we going to label eels? Sharks? Crabs? Plankton? Whales? Sea Otters? Nobody knows.

Nor does anyone know how to keep unlabeled fish beyond the 200-mile limit. The only idea so far is to hire thousands of deep-sea divers to act as a sort of permanent oceanic border patrol. Their job would be to keep alien (read unlabeled) fish beyond our borders so that "the public can be assured that their fish supply remains completely safe."

Copyright © 2002 Frank G. Van Atta. All rights reserved.