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PeTA vs. Angling

PeTA is hosting a little video on the cruel sport of fishing. Their QuickTime link doesn't work, but you can view the source and grab the rtsp://….mov link.

The usual bad filmmaking typical of PeTA videos applies here. When talking about fish lying on the bottom after being released by an angler, they show pictures of eels and flounder - fish that live on the bottom. They talk with only one "expert" and only one "reformed" angler. The shots they show of anglers handling fish are of some of the most inept anglers I've seen, and certainly the exception instead of the rule.

PeTA usually has some points, or at least things to think about. The problem with PeTA is that they take a shaky foundation and attempt to extend it to illogical and extreme ends. They find inept people committing the grossest of errors and capitalize on that to sensationalize an issue. PeTA leaves out facts that counter their arguments instead of discussing them. To PeTA, there is no such thing as a "conscientious angler," yet almost every angler I've met is one.

PeTA's entire foundation is based on the motto "Fish Feel Pain" (FFP). They illustrate this by showing diagrams of the lateral line (a thick bundle of nerve endings on each side of the fish, in a line the length of their body). PeTA preys on the ignorance of the public by failing to mention that there are different kinds of nerve endings. Nociceptors, or pain receptors, are largely absent on fish. Fish are very sensitive to some types of stimulus - they can tell the difference between a degree of temperature, a small change in salinity, etc. Nociceptors, however, are few and far between, and even fewer exist in the mouth area. The mouth has lots of pressure receptors and some taste receptors. Fish feel some pain, but showing me diagrams of a lateral line (which fish use to detect motion in the water, such as an oncoming predator, a struggling fish, or the movement of their school) is simply misleading and untruthful.

From the FFP foundation they build up an argument against angling while showing images of people struggling to unhook fish, grasping fish with towels, and littering. They talk of barbed hooks and the pain they cause. They talk of gut-hooked fish. They show images of fish floating around, dead. They show people decapitating an eel and putting it in a bag, of fisherman throwing catches into "live nets" (they had a different term for them), and so on. "Those poor fish" we're led to think.

I do none of these things. I crush the barbs on my hooks. I release fish quickly. Unhooking a fish is as simple as sliding the hook out - a fish is brought to the fisherman by maintaining a taut line and slides off the hook easily. I use wet hands if I even have to use my hands at all. I don't litter. I don't use a net in catch-and-release fishing. I sometimes kill fish… but more on that later.

Real anglers are conscientious anglers. Gut hooking fish has alwyas been a big concern and has led to new science (circle hooks) and new tactics to avoid the gut hook. I've been fishing on and off my entire life. I've caught thousands of fish. Exactly three have been gut hooked, and all were fish I had intended to keep anyway (a brown trout, a rainbow trout, and a walleye). Anglers are concerned, too, and the results are speaking for themselves.

As with any group, there are going to be a few bad seeds spoiling things for the rest of us. Fortunately for PeTA these people exist or they wouldn't have much footage at all. These people are detested by "actual" anglers as uneducated. They cause more harm than good. "Actual" anglers would rather these uneducated wannabes didn't fish at all, though we work to educate new anglers when possible. We're not charitable, we're selfish: "bad" anglers cause us grief, harm fish populations and the world in which they live, and give the sport a bad name.

For example, PeTA mentions the lines, lures, and hooks that some "anglers" leave behind. They mention other litter as well - bottles, plastic bags, etc. Once, while fishing with my father, a sandwich bag blew overboard our boat as we cruised along at 25 MPH. We turned around and spent 45 minutes looking for the bag. We recovered it and moved on. This doesn't make us special - it makes us typical. Being conscientious is "the norm." Here's a story of another angler rescuing a pelican, and later posts document other acts of preservation and cleanup that we consider "the way it is." Conscientiousness is the norm. Anyone can leave trash behind - boaters, campers, etc. Anglers are often among the most affected by and the most aware of the behaviors of others on or near the water and have become quite active in doing more than their part to clean up or take care of that world.

I've killed fish. I said I'd get back to this point. Just as with any animals I've shot, I've eaten them. People have done this for centuries. There are a number of reasons to hunt or fish and some are mentioned in the comments of my "Dead Deer" entry. PeTA raises some valid points - but the bullet points are not new to anglers. We're aware of them, we've taken measures and practices to counter them, and we're well ahead of PeTA on this one.

It's that simple.

One Response to "PeTA vs. Angling"

  1. Erik I agree with you!