Animal Rights Group Baits Anglers with Ethics Pledge

The animal rights group PETA wants fishermen to promise they will follow a federal "Code of Angling Ethics" before they can legally hook salmon, trout and halibut in Alaska.

The animal rights group PETA wants fishermen to promise they will follow a federal "Code of Angling Ethics" before they can legally hook salmon, trout and halibut in Alaska.

Last week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals faxed a letter to McKie Campbell, commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game, asking him to require Alaska anglers to take an angling ethics pledge before they can buy a fishing license.

The department hasn't officially responded to PETA, and Campbell was out of state and unavailable for comment Thursday. But a state fisheries official said the answer will almost certainly be something like "No, thank you."

The sportfish division posts its own angling code on fly-fishing Web pages, and many Alaska fishermen voluntarily follow similar principles, said Jon Lyman, aquatic education coordinator with the Division of Sportfish.

PETA wants it mandatory.


"PETA doesn't condone any fishing; impaling animals with metal hooks through their lips would lead to cruelty-to-animal charges if done to cats, dogs, cows or pigs," wrote Karin Robertson, coordinator of the group's Fish Empathy Project. "The least the state can do is to ensure that the pain and suffering that anglers inflict on millions of fish and other aquatic animals is kept to a minimum."

The code is not PETA's creation. It was published by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1999 and contains 10 commonsense suggestions that are not at all controversial among anglers. They include things like: use tackle that minimizes harm during "catch and release" fishing, don't litter or spill fuel into the water, don't release exotic bait-fish and obey the law.

"I hope that most fishers will agree with the code," Robertson said Wednesday. "It would show that fishers are concerned with lessening the suffering they inflict on fish, and that state officials are concerned as well."

This request is part of PETA's ongoing campaign to end fishing in all forms. Last winter, the group asked Gov. Frank Murkowski to ban the pursuit of king salmon, the official state fish and an early-summer obsession among anglers and meat fishermen. The governor declined.

With this latest initiative, PETA is demonstrating that it wants to work with Alaska officials to set minimum standards for the treatment of fish, Robertson said in e-mail and phone interviews this week.

"This letter is a departure for us," she said. "Of course we want people to stop fishing -- but while fishing is still legal, we want to lessen the cruelty and suffering it causes."

Requiring people to make a behavior pledge to get a fishing license is inappropriate and probably illegal without legislative approval, Lyman said. "That right there takes it out of the realm of (personal) ethics and puts it into the realm of law."

PETA maintains that animals, including fish, have inherent rights and should not be used by people in any way. In 2003, the group drew criticism for comparing the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi death camps to the practice of slaughtering animals for food. A few weeks ago, a former Playboy magazine model working with PETA protested outside a local Kentucky Fried Chicken, wearing a bikini during freezing weather.

On its Web site,, PETA cites scientific studies concluding fish are intelligent individuals that feel emotional trauma and pain on their way to the grill or freezer. Other scientists have said the whole premise is nonsense, that fish lack brain structures necessary to experience pain.

In her letter to Campbell, Robertson cites the same arguments. "It is only a matter of time before society views cruelty to fish with the same revulsion that we feel about cruelty to dogs or cats," she wrote.

The group realizes that Alaskans aren't going to give up salmon, at least not yet, Robertson added in an interview. "I would say we're taking a practical approach to this very important issue. It's 250 million fish that are killed by anglers each year, and those fish will go through less pain and less suffering if these guidelines are followed."

The group plans to contact other states too, but chose to begin the campaign with Alaska, she said. "I'm completely blown away by the beauty of Alaska and the kindness of the state's citizens, and yet there's this odd thing about Alaska -- so many of these otherwise kind and caring people hook animals through the mouth and drag them on a pole. ... We have great hope that our message will resonate with many Alaskans who have simply not considered the fact that fish suffer just as intensely as any dog or cat."

Lyman said the department will listen to PETA's suggestions, but there seems to be a "disconnect" between the reasonableness of the suggested angling code and the group's published positions about animals. He also disputes PETA's assumptions -- that fish experience pain like mammals. Many scientific papers argue otherwise, he said.

"It appears to me that they're using this as a tickler," Lyman said. "I think that people who are concerned, who want to peruse this further, should look fully at the PETA Web site. ... I mean, they equated the killing of fish with the Holocaust."

The notion that people should handle fish carefully, as a living resource that deserves conservation and respect, isn't a new idea to modern Alaskans and has a long history among the state's Native cultures.

"In Alaska, fish are food -- we eat fish," Lyman said. "It has long been, it has forever been, a primary portion of our condition, of our food stuff, of our very survival here."

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News