by Craig Weatherby
Following President Obama’s State of the Union address, National Public Radio asked its listeners to cite the three words they remembered most from the speech.
The network also asked people to identify themselves as Independent, Democrat, or Republican.
Some 4,000 people replied, and NPR used common “word cloud” software to produce graphics that represent the words cited most often in the biggest type.
As you can see below—and judging by posts on social media sites—the most remembered word was “salmon”.
That’s because he joked about federal salmon-fishing regulations to make a point about redundant or overlapping agency responsibilities.
As he said, “The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater.”
The next line—“I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked”—drew big laughs from his audience of politicians, and apparently among home viewers.
While this word cloud ranks the responses from Independents, the word clouds generated for Democrats’ and Republicans’ responses also rank “salmon” as the most memorable word.
Is salmon regulation a laughing matter?
Why do two different departments regulate salmon?
The President’s joke was a pretty good one, but salmon duties are divided for good reason.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service controls fishing in fresh water, while the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration regulates ocean fishing (All fish species, not just salmon).
While this regulatory scheme provided an irresistible opportunity for comic relief, it actually makes good sense.
Ocean species are caught almost entirely by commercial fishermen, while private individuals do almost all freshwater fishing.
And the monitoring and management of ocean and freshwater species requires agencies whose scientists have deep knowledge of these distinctly different ecosystems and fishes.
Thus, there’s a pretty obvious reason for having two separate salmon-fishing regulators.
Unlike most fish, which spend all their time in ocean or fresh waters—and clearly fall under the domain of one or the other agency—salmon, shad, and eel migrate between rivers and seas.
As to the President’s punch line, who oversees smoked fish? As his joke implied, the duties are split there, too.
The USDA regulates production of salmon for human consumption, while the FDA controls nutrition labels on salmon products… such as smoked salmon.
Can you remember this stuff? If not, don’t sweat it… there won’t be a pop quiz, class.
- National Public Radio. The State Of The Union, In Your Words. January 25, 2011. Accessed at http://www.npr.org/2011/01/26/133211131/the-state-of-the-union-in-your-words