The Miami Herald

Shooting carps in Wisconsin

(This Dave Barry column was originally published June 25, 2000.)

A fundamental belief held by Americans is that if you are on land, you cannot be killed by a fish. This belief has been reinforced by the Steven Spielberg movies ''Jaws,'' ''Jaws II,'' ''Jaws Goes to Porky's'' and ''Saving Private Ryan From Jaws,'' in which the only characters to die were the ones stupid enough to venture into the Atlantic Ocean, where even ankle-deep water often conceals predators the size of Winnebagos.

So most Americans remain on land, believing they're safe. Unfortunately, this belief -- like so many myths, such as that there's a reason for ''Daylight Savings Time'' -- is false. Over the years, I have reported on a number of cases of people on land nearly being killed by fish. I have pursued this story not for personal gain, but in the belief that my efforts will be worthwhile if I can save the life of just one person, and that person turns out to be an Internet magnate who gives me a billion dollars.

Today I present three more chilling cases, none of which I am making up. We begin with an article from the June 17, 1999, issue of the Times-Standard, a California newspaper published in Eureka, which is Greek for ''Yikes.'' This article, written by Shaun Walker and sent in by alert reader Matt Filar, states that John and Lauren Erker of Eureka were ''relaxing inside their house'' when ''they heard a loud crashing noise.'' They went to their porch and found ``a two-foot hole in the plastic roof and what they believe to be a three-pound ocean perch below it.''

The Erkers believe the perch was dropped by an osprey. The story does not speculate WHY an osprey would try to kill them with a perch, but it does quote Mr. Erker as saying: ''I know if you wake up with a horse in your bed, what that means. But I don't know about a fish.'' (He is referring to the scene in ''The Godfather'' where a man discovers, to his horror, that he is in bed with the severed head of a horse, apparently put there by a large, mob-related osprey.)

Our next incident is described in a Dec. 15, 1998, article from the Santa Rosa, Calif., Press Democrat, written by Mike Geniella and sent in by many alert readers. It states that Sergio Gutierrez, a truck driver for Sea Products Inc., was driving a tractor-trailer on Highway 101 at 3:15 a.m. when he slammed into a bear crossing the road. Gutierrez was thrown from the truck, which then overturned, the result being that he was, according to the story, ``buried under an avalanche of frozen mackerel.''

Fortunately, Gutierrez survived. Unfortunately, the bear did not, so there was no way to determine whether it had any links to the osprey community.

At this point, you're saying: 'Dave, these two instances of people almost being killed on land by fish definitely constitute what journalists call a `rash,' or possibly even a 'wave.' What is the government doing about it?''

You will not like my answer one bit. I have here an article from the front page of the March 9, 2000, issue of the Wisconsin State Journal, written by Dee J. Hall and sent in by many alert readers. The story concerns an effort by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to ''improve the habitat'' in a marsh by poisoning a large number of carp.

Unfortunately, when government agencies decide to ''improve'' a habitat, things do not always go as planned, which is how the National Park Service recently turned New Mexico into charcoal.

The plan in Wisconsin was that the carp would die and sink to the marsh bottom. Unfortunately, nobody told the dead carp, which decided to float instead. So hundreds of thousands of them drifted downstream to a lake called (really) Lake Sinissippi, where they formed a giant, reeking mass.

Here's where it gets scary. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources decided to get rid of the dead fish by -- get ready -- using manure spreaders to shoot them across farm fields. The Wisconsin State Journal ran a beautiful front-page color picture showing a man -- identified as ''Duane Ketter, wildlife technician'' -- driving a tractor, behind which is a device that is flinging dead fish into the air, apparently at high velocities. If you can look at this picture without having to change underwear, you are not human.

But my point is this: As if it's not bad enough that the ospreys and bears are trying to kill us with fish; now we have to keep an eye out for airborne carp hurled by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. So my advice is: Be careful! And whatever else you do, remember this: ''Duane Ketter and His Wildlife Technicians'' would be an excellent name for a rock band.




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