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PETA fails to hook Utahns with sign

By Amelia Nielson-Stowell

Busty actress Pamela Anderson and even a Latter-day Saint scripture are a few of the billboards People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have been able to place in the past year.

But an image of a dog with a fishhook through its lip has crossed the line for some outdoor advertisers.

After trying for six months to post an anti-fishing billboard in the Salt Lake area, PETA has "exhausted all options." Six companies with billboards in the area have all rejected the design, which says: "If you wouldn't do this to a dog, why do it to a fish?"

"It's just so disappointing because people all over the country need to see this message. But especially in a place where there are a lot of fishers," PETA's fish empathy project manager, Karin Robertson, said in reference to Utah's heavy fishing population. Because of the popularity of the sport in the state, Salt Lake City was a coveted spot for PETA to place one of the billboards.

"Fish are intelligent animals. They are just as intelligent as the dogs and cats who share our homes, and they feel pain in the same way. It's just such a gruesome, cruel way to treat animals."

The billboard, advertising the Web site, was placed in fishing hot spots all over the nation this summer, including various cities in Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Kansas and Tennessee. Although Robertson said some billboard companies in other states rejected the design and "a lot of people" got calls about the gruesome, digitally created image, trying to get the billboards approved in Salt Lake City was a unique situation because of the time spent "begging and pleading" and the number of companies that PETA contacted.

"We can only speculate that they decided not to run it because of the fishing industry."

Local billboard company Freeway Advertising rejected the billboard because of a company policy that says that if owners feel the design would offend the general public, it's rejected.

"They (PETA) call us all the time and want to put stuff up," said co-owner Paul Newbold. The company has rejected and accepted previous designs from the animal rights group. But with the anti-fishing campaign, "They're trying to make a stir, and I told them I don't need the headaches. I don't need people calling me saying, 'Your billboard offends me.' "

Freeway Advertising posted PETA's controversial vegetarian billboard last year. Next to an image of God, it quoted scripture from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The advertisement didn't generate any calls. But Newbold feared an anti-fishing billboard would.

"I just knew we'd have a lot of sportsmen calling. I just didn't want to deal with it," he said, adding that the delivery of the message is a little harsh. "I like to fish. I'm a sportsman. But I don't waste it. We use them and filet them."

New York-based Viacom Outdoors also rejected the design. Calls to their offices were not returned. The company had previously approved and posted the design in August in the coastal city of Galveston, Texas. But after a week, the company pulled it down because of complaints from local drivers.
Viacom Outdoors spokesman Jeremy Murphy told Reuters that the billboard was taken down as part of the company's policy to conform with local community standards.

Billboard companies Young Electric Sign Co. and Saunders Outdoor Advertising said they had to reject PETA because all their billboard spots were occupied, while RTM Media told PETA it no longer accepts billboards in Utah. Reagan Outdoor Advertising did not return calls from the Deseret Morning News.

Robertson said most people are shocked and even horrified when they first see the billboard, but he hopes it would make them think about it again when they see a fish with a hook through its mouth.

"This billboard does not show anything different than anglers have seen," she said. "If people wouldn't hook the family dog through the lip, they shouldn't hook a fish either."

Randy Radant, aquatic section chief for Utah Division of Wildlife Services, said fishing is a tradition to many Utahns and they would not have taken the billboard lightly. He disagreed that the angling is inhumane.

"We're not convinced that the fish are necessarily in a painful experience," he said, adding there is not enough scientific material to support the claim.

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