- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Touting tofu chowder and vegetarian sushi as alternatives, animal rights activists have begun a novel campaign arguing that fish — contrary to stereotype — are intelligent, sensitive animals no more deserving of being eaten than a pet dog or cat.

Called the Fish Empathy Project, the campaign reflects a strategy shift by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as it challenges a diet component widely viewed as nutritious and noncontroversial.

“No one would ever put a hook through a dog’s or cat’s mouth,” said Bruce Friedrich, PETA’s director of vegan outreach. “Once people start to understand that fish, although they come in different packaging, are just as intelligent, they’ll stop eating them.”

The campaign is in its infancy and will face broad skepticism. Major groups such as the American Heart Association recommend fish as part of a healthy diet; some academics say it is wrong to portray the intelligence and pain sensitivity of fish as comparable to mammals.

“Fish are very complex organisms that do all sorts of fascinating things,” said University of Wyoming neuroscientist James Rose. “But to suggest they know what’s happening to them and worry about it, that’s just not the case.”

PETA, headquartered in Norfolk, has campaigned for years against sport fishing, challenging assertions by Mr. Rose and others that fish caught by anglers do not feel pain. PETA also has joined other critics in decrying the high levels of mercury or other toxins in many fish and the pollution discharged by many fish farms.

The Empathy Project is a departure in two respects — attempting to depict the standard practices of commercial fishing as cruel and seeking to convince consumers about ethical reasons for not eating fish.

“Fish are so misunderstood because they’re so far removed from our daily lives,” said Karin Robertson, 24, the Fish Empathy Project manager and daughter of an Indiana fisheries biologist. “They’re such interesting, fascinating individuals, yet they’re so incredibly abused.”

PETA activists plan demonstrations starting next month at selected seafood restaurants nationwide. PETA also will urge changes in commercial fishing practices, for example proposing that trawler crews stun fish before cutting them up.

Fish-welfare rules would be a new realm for U.S. commercial fishermen. The National Fisheries Institute, which represents them, has pledged to help sustain fish stocks, but its members have never faced cruelty regulations regarding their catch.

“It’s irresponsible to discourage people from eating fish at a time when doctors and dietitians advise eating it twice a week,” said institute president John Connelly. “If anything, we should be eating more fish.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide