Take a Fish to Lunch

By Shiflett, Dave | The American Spectator, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Take a Fish to Lunch


Shiflett, Dave, The American Spectator


But you better not eat it, says PETA.

"Let them that desire peace prepare for war."

-Winston Churchill

Jeff Thomas, managing editor for the New England Military Bass Newsletter, employed the stirring quote to launch an equally impassioned essay entitled "A Call to Arms," believing no doubt that Sir Winston, one of history's predominant resisters of tyranny and a fellow angler, would surely be in his boat. He is no doubt correct. But why the alarm? Thomas explains: "Let every New England Military Bass fisherman worth his rod and reel pay careful heed to the words you are about to read. Our sport is under siege by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the folks who think like them."

Thomas is not the fishing world's only Paul Revere. Word that PETA has declared war on angling spread quickly. PETA chieftain Tracy Reiman told the Wall Street journal that fishing is "the final frontier of animals rights." Activists promised to protest at fishing tournaments. A PETA official, quoted in Bassin' magazine, said his organization would throw rocks to scare away fish. PETA would also dispatch scuba divers to scare fish from beneath party boats. Other activists would flail the water with bamboo poles.

Worse yet, PETA promised to take its campaign into the public schools, where it hopes to undo traditional views of fishing. This makes condom distribution appear innocent. "Well, fellow anglers, it seems we have another fight on our hands," Bill Degnan, head of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, informed his colleagues. PETA is directly challenging the long-standing and all but unanimous view that fish are many links below mankind in the great chain of being, and therefore reach their highest station in life just after exiting the frying pan. PETA insists otherwise: Fish are our brothers and sisters; hooking one is the moral equivalent of gaffing one's grandmother.

In another sense, however, this is one of the more lopsided of wars. On one side is the regular fishing public, some 36 million strong (with many more occasional fishers), backed by thousands of years of tradition, a huge fishing industry-$40 billion a year is spent on bassfishing alone-and the entire political establishment. On the other side is PETA, with a $13 million annual budget for its entire animal rights program and, according to officials, just over 400,000 members. Its much feared elementary school "indoctrination" program is basically the work of one woman accompanied by a compatriot dressed as a fish, neither of whom has had much luck getting inside the schoolhouse door.

Yet there are at least three things going PETA's way. One is a deep desire to succeed. The other is the startled reaction to its message, which amplifies the issue. The third is an amused and confrontation-seeking news media that is quick to rise to any bait PETA dangles before it.

Though fish are hardly as cuddly as puppies, bunnies, and other PETA protectorates, the belief that they should be left alone appears every bit as strong. It is this passion that unnerves PETA's adversaries. "These people have a religious approach to animals, you know," says George Howard, executive director of the New Jersey State Federation of Sportsman Clubs, which represents 150,000 hunters and anglers. "They don't think you should be able to use animals for any purpose."

PETA documents do create an unnerving sense of omniscience, as if not a single hair on an American gerbil's head can be mussed without the organization's vast spy network reporting into headquarters over its animal abuse hotline. "Lessons in Disrespect," a PETA publication aimed at schoolchildren, suggests an all-seeing entity:

An elementary-school girl, pecked by a chick she was holding, threw the chick against the wall.

A guinea pig taken home for winter break suffered a broken back.

A parakeet left in a school building over winter break died when the temperature dropped too low. …

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