Practical Issues > Fishing/Hunting > Fishing - Index

Fishing hardly a 'serene' sport

By David Crawford
June 11, 2005

It's interesting that the expressions "taking candy from a baby" and "shooting fish in a barrel" carry essentially the same message.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, in demonstrating at the Boulder Fishing Derby against the "shooting of fish in a barrel," Rocky Mountain Animal Defense was accused of stealing from children (Open Forum, June 1).

First, the theft charge. RMAD stands accused of stealing the morning's innocence. Yes, the animal advocates had a presence at the event. And, yes, a few of the demonstrators crossed over into the neutral zone. We made a few provocative remarks. And a few of us positioned ourselves too closely to the derby's participants. We should have been more mindful of the probability that our presence and our words would agitate some of the adults. Conversations ensued. A few were heated. Some children were exposed to the rancor. We were not there to agitate. We were there to show the children an alternative perspective on an event that hurts animals.

It is critical for children to see adults successfully navigate disagreements. We understand this. We take our share of responsibility for how things unfolded. Guilty, not as charged, but of a lesser crime. Perhaps poor role modeling.

If we had it to do over again, we would remain silent and let our posters provide our message: Fish do feel pain. We also would try to work with the fishing derby's organizers to ensure that the adult participants followed the clearly posted Boulder law prohibiting anyone over 12 years of age from reeling in fish on the ponds. Demonstrations are a small part of the work of Rocky Mountain Animal Defense. Our efforts on behalf of this state's native prairie wildlife takes place in corporate board rooms, council chambers and courthouses. Our efforts on behalf of factory-farmed animals take place in middle schools and at community events.

We answer dozens of animal-related inquiries each week from all over Boulder County and beyond.

Occasionally, we participate in the direct rescue of animals in crisis. RMAD's volunteers got quite muddy on many temperate days last winter at Leggett Canal, out near Ecocycle. With broad community support, we rescued some 2,000 animals. The turtles got the good media, but we saved more than a thousand fish, too.

With our history of community service, our position as the state's leading animal-advocacy organization and our investment in this city's and state's wildlife, we feel we have "standing" in our opposition to the fishing derby. The ponds are stocked. The fish have nowhere to go. Prizes are awarded. This is Boulder's equivalent of a canned hunt. And we aren't particularly swayed by the utilitarian "reassurance" that some of these fish were eaten. A canned hunt is a canned hunt.

In recent research, Michael K. Stoskopf, department head at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University, found that fish exhibit the same basic responses to painful stimuli Ð including rapid startle reactions and simple nonspecific flight Ð as mammals do. They also produce biochemical compounds related to those produced by mammals when subjected to pain. Says Dr. Stoskopf, anglers are "inflicting pain in a variety of ways to individuals."

Another researcher, University of Edinburgh Biologist Culum Brown, states: "Fish are more intelligent than they appear. In many areas, such as memory, their cognitive powers match or exceed those of 'higher' vertebrates, including nonhuman primates."

Does this really surprise anyone? Haven't we come to expect a continued breaking down of barriers between human beings and other animal species? Weren't we once sure that what distinguished us from the rest of the animal kingdom was our use of tools? Or was it our consciousness? Or our use of language? Seems none of these holds water for long.

Mark Twain may have come closest: "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."

It's going to take some time for our society's actions toward fish to catch up to our knowledge of them. We all know how smart and sensitive pigs are, but we have not yet outlawed the practice of keeping them confined in bathtub-sized stalls for their entire lives.

And there's this whole culture of fishing Ð this whole peace and meditation thing -- whose very existence would come to a screeching halt if only fish could scream.

Violence is violence, and violence knows no object. When laws are passed creating a felony class of animal cruelty, we all benefit. When cockfighting is outlawed, we all benefit. When native habitat is spared the earthscrapers' wrath, we all benefit. Rocky Mountain Animal Defense will continue to do our best to help eliminate violence from our collective lives. For our sake and for the sake of our children and indeed future generations.

Let's take the best of our desires to commune with one another and commune with nature. Let's get to peaceful places, watch the movements of the trees, feel the sun on our shoulders, listen to the waters, divulge little secrets to one another. Build trust. And to whatever extent possible, let's leave out the pain.

David Crawford is executive director of Rocky Mountain Animal Defense.

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