Swimming against the current on National Go Fishing Day


Today is National Go Fishing Day, a day (like any other) to pretend that fish aren’t sentient beings who feel pain, possess innate intelligence, express social behavior, have memories…and who, like us, just want to live their lives. Instead, our species is encouraged by a multi-billion dollar recreational fishing industry to trick them with bait, “play” them on the end of the line, “fight” them on fly rods, and congratulate our skillful selves as victors when we haul them, gasping and suffering, out of the only universe they know. We perpetuate this cruelty by teaching children to disregard their suffering–they are, after all, only fish and objects of “sport”in numerous summer fishing camps designed to produce enthusiastic little anglers.

Catch-and-release fishing doesn’t let us off the moral hook, either, since mortality rates for hooked and released fish aren’t insignificant, depending on where the hook embeds and how much stress the fish endures. If the hook is deeply embedded, some say it’s best to cut the line and leave it in. You go on your happy way–it’s the fish’s problem now! Yes, one being’s recreation is another being’s agony:

“It would be singularly unethical not to increase protection for fish and other animals who we previously thought weren’t sentient,” says evolutionary biologist and ethologist Marc Bekoff (in a column for Psychology Today). “Teaching our children that ever popular catch-and-release programs are inhumane is a good way to go for making the future for fish and other animals a more humane and pleasant experience.”

But here’s the rub: The monied interests are organized. Trout Unlimited is in the classroom and offers a First Cast program–a “new nationwide initiative to introduce youth to coldwater conservation through angling.” (TU is only one organization–there are many; here’s another.) In a country that celebrates a National Go Fishing Day and conflates conservation with injuring or killing sentient beings for sport, how do we reach the more than 10 million kids who go fishing (2013 statistic) with a message about empathy for fish?

Animal activists are swimming against a powerful current, for sure–but this only makes us stronger for the long haul.
Learn more:

  • “Fish are sentient and emotional beings and clearly feel pain” by Marc Bekoff; links to additional research, here
  • FishFeel.org
  • “Animal behavior: Inside the cunning, caring, and greedy minds of fish” – By revealing that fish cooperate, cheat and punish, Redouan Bshary has challenged ideas about brain evolution. In Nature, the international weekly journal of science, 26 May 2015
  • Most popular outdoor activities in U.S. 2009-2013, here

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Let slip the dogs of war: Wolf slaughter is afoot


Click image for photo credit

Cry “Havoc!” There will be blood…and it will be wolf blood.

Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) has hired a killer to slaughter two wolf packs within the federally-protected Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. This is congressionally-designated,captital-Wwilderness, certainly the one place nature should be allowed to express itself without manipulation by and for humans. Said wolf biologist and PBS filmmaker (“River of No Return”) Isaac Babcock,

Why must two wilderness wolf packs die? “The killing is necessary because wolves and other predators are eating too many elk calves, and the population has not recovered to the agency’s (IDFG’s) goals. …If you’re looking for cost benefits you remove an entire pack,” rather than just members of a pack, according to the state wildlife bureau chief. Keep in mind that wolves (who, according to nature’s plan, eat ungulates–hello?) are seen as competition by camo-clad Homo sapiens gunning for the same prey.

But at 2,366,907 acres, the Frank is vast, wild, and not easily-accessible, and “sport” wolf hunters aren’t effective at reducing population numbers on so large a landscape. Hence the hired gun, whose mission is to ensure that the remote, wild land encompassing the Middle Fork of the Salmon River (map) remains a productive elk factory serving special interest groups–hunters, outfitters, and the state management agency in their employ.

Animal advocates who are also public land advocates are baffled how this can not be a violation of the Wilderness Act. District Ranger Anthony Botello (Krassel Ranger District) told the Idaho Statesman, “All of their (IDFG’s) management has to abide by wilderness management rules like we do.” Oh, really? We might ask Mr. Botello how wiping out native predators to manipulate elk numbers preserves wilderness character–the mandate of the Wilderness Act of 1964. According to its author, “The purpose of the Wilderness Act is to preserve the wilderness character of the areas to be included in the wilderness system, not to establish any particular use.” — Howard Zahniser, 1962

Because the Wilderness Act is the law of our land, the U.S. Forest Service needs to explain to taxpaying citizens how allowing Idaho state wildlife politics to trump federal law passes muster. Stay tuned.

And now, for something completely different…

Now let’s check in with Idaho for Wildlife, whose mission is: “To protect Idaho’s hunting and fishing heritage. To fight against all legal and legislative attempts by the animal rights and anti-gun organizations who are attempting to take away our rights and freedoms under the Constitution of the United States of America. To hold all Government and State Agencies who are stewards of our Wildlife accountable and ensure that science is used as the primary role for our Wildlife management.”

These pursuers of truth, justice, and the American way plan to extend the peace and goodwill of the season by conducting a predator-killing derby (“quality time” for parents and kids) in the days following Christmas:


Click image & scroll down for full size

You can tell right away that Idaho for Wildlife is committed to “science” because the event organizer, a big-game outfitter (website), told a Reuters reporter that “media inquiries were not welcome.” Indeed, the last thing you want is some Nosy Nelly media-type attempting to report (and twist the facts) on the science behind your predator derby! Also, criteria like “largest” and “most” are well-established indicators of the scientific method. Then there’s the campaign of knowledge-based hysteria surrounding the parasites that canids carry–a tapeworm requiring both canids and ungulates for life cycle completion. Never mind that it’s commonly distributed worldwide–it can be transmitted to humans! Be afraid…be very afraid.

Following up on this pervasive and pestilent parasitic plague, Rocky Barker writes in the Idaho Statesman, ” …no recent reports of human infections have been made in Idaho. Three documented cases came before wolves were reintroduced.”

These examples of hubris from the state known for famous potatoes make my state–Montana–seem downright wolf-friendly despite a six-month rifle season and a 2-1/2 month trapping season. As I write, 106 have been killed by projectile, three in traps, and one companion malamute mistaken and slain for a wolf. Just this morning we learned that a protected grizzly bear was caught in a wolf trap on the Rocky Mountain Front. Rifle season is only half over, and trapping season has just begun.

Let’s close with a final thought from the organizer of the predator derby, whose words bode ill for both wolves and their defenders:

He’s right about one thing–we are dealing with a serious disease. But it’s not the wolves who are carrying it. It’s a human disease, and it ain’t pretty.
UPDATES 1/8/14:Renewed motion for Temporary Restraining Order; 1/6/14:Complaint; Motion for TRO; Memo
UPDATE, 12/30: Derby death results here.
UPDATE, 12/23:Lawsuit aims to stop Salmon, ID killing derby; organizer says it will go on regardless – click here.
UPDATE: NAPA Auto Parts, the only national sponsor of the Idaho for Wildlife slaughter-fest, has pulled out. Visit the Animal Blawg link below and check the comments for details.

  • PBS Nature: “River of No Return” – 30-second preview here; entire episode here.
  • Find the Wilderness Act text here. Find the nation’s wilderness areas here.
  • Contact Krassel District Ranger Botello: abotello@fs.fed.us; copy your message to the Payette National Forest supervisor: klannom@fs.fed.us

Comment on this post at animal law blogAnimal Blawg.

Harming animals to help humans: when charity isn’t charitable

Pigs in gestation crates: www.all-creatures.org

There’s something terribly uncomfortable about commenting on people and groups doing charitable, humanitarian work where animal exploitation figures in–even if only remotely or tangentially. It feels like badmouthing Santa or ripping on Mother T. Because oppression of other animal species is so thoroughly woven into the fabric of our lives, it’s considered normal or merely goes unrecognized. You know from the get-go that your comments will be perceived as criticism. The nuances of the discussion will be lost. The defensive accusation, “You care more about animals than people,” will come blasting your way to shut down further discussion. Some things shouldn’t be questioned. Period.

Whose heart doesn’t go out to the uninsured family who loses everything in a fire? Or the individual dealing with a devastating illness he can’t afford? When the safety net’s gone missing, compassionate people often step up to provide one, and the warm embrace of the human family surrounds us all. We take care of each other.

But when the missing safety net materializes in the form of, say, a benefit pig roast (as just one example), my heart breaks a little, too. I’m saddened that my immediate family of humans can’t see compassion extending beyond the boundaries of our own species, and that to help our own kind, we’re willing to hurt another kind. The comforting embrace diminishes and a disquieting idea recurs: I don’t really belong. I sit at the edge of the Homo sapiens family gathering, the frowning, odd relation who not only won’t play by the rules, but wants to change them. (Just ignore her–maybe she’ll leave.)

You probably recognize that odd relative if you believe that dignity for one need not come at the expense of dignity for another. If you feel that compassion and justice know no species. If you’re one who sees–actually sees–the foundation of institutional animal cruelty that supports the status quo by which our every-day lives are ordered.

So when I tell you that I was dumbfounded to read that a Habitat for Humanity chapter (an organization I very much admire) raised money by throwing a hotdog eating contest, you’ll understand dumbfounded.

There’s the dissonant idea that an organization serving people in need should sponsor a fundraiser based on gluttonous competition where food is squandered. It felt unsettling and weirdly at odds, but I’ve never been a fan of eating contests, and maybe that’s just my cranky quirk. I’m willing to own it.

When is a hotdog not just a hotdog?

But I’m also one who sees the horror of the factory farm lying in every bun. I so badly want the compassionate people who build homes to recognize that the pig needs compassion–she whose only home will never be anything more than a gestation crate brimming with her body and her despair. Or the chicken, whose “home” is a darkened warehouse where she stands immobile in her own waste–crammed with thousands others–for her miserable 45-day life. Burned raw by ammonia, suffering eye and respiratory ailments–she, too, desperately needs mercy. And the cow? Yes…stunned with a bolt to the brain, shackled and hanging by one leg, awaiting the throat-slitting knife–compassion is called for here, too, in the antithesis of a safe haven. Understanding all this, can a hotdog ever be an agent of charitable kindness?


Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” According to Volunteering in America, 26.3% of Americans–62.8 million of us–found ourselves through volunteerism in 2010. Another 19 million volunteered informally–simply filling a need where they found one. A good many of us are driven to do good in a myriad of ways: tutoring kids, walking shelter dogs, knitting socks, picking up litter, building trails, visiting nursing homes–acts of giving as varied as the members of our species.

Must service to one species do disservice to another?

But in programs where animals play an involuntary role, the primacy of helping humans usually precludes discussion about what we owe sentient othersevenin (and perhaps especially in) the commission of charity. And why shouldn’t it be this way? Who but an animal rights nudnik is going to whine about harming fish–cold-blooded, finned, scaled, water-dwelling fish–to help humans who’ve been through hell?!?

Just like the hotdog eating contest, dissonant vibes rang out in a couple recent news items pertaining to healing retreats for breast cancer patients and war veterans, with fly fishing as their centerpieces. Under the auspices of national charitable groups, both have at their core the compassionate, generous mission to provide physical and mental healing space for those who’ve suffered. Speaking of what fishing means to her, one enthusiast says, “It’s a tremendously healing, peaceful, fulfilling activity.” Hoping to share the well-being she reaps, she plans to volunteer at next year’s cancer retreat.

But research tells us that fish are sentient–that they feel fear and pain. “Indeed, there is a growing body of science demonstrating that fish are far smarter and more cognitively competent than we have previously suspected,”according to the Oxford University Press description of Do Fish Feel Pain? by biologist Victoria Braithwaite. Professor Donald Broom (University of Cambridge) asserts that “…the pain system of fish is very similar to that of birds and mammals.” (For more on fish brain structures, fear, and pain, visit FishCount.org.)

Marc Bekoff, commenting on Braithwaite’s research, says,

Given the violence done to fish with every encounter (whether their terrified, gasping struggle ends in the frying pan or in a return to the water, wounded), I’m struck by the incongruity of finding peace and healing for one’s damaged self through cruelty to another. Yet is it reasonable to expect anything else in a world where the act of hooking “just” a fish isn’t perceived as cruel?

Nonhuman animals are the largest class of exploited beings on Earth, where the animal industrial complex “…naturalizes the human as a consumer of other animals” for food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment. On the one hand, singling out charities for their blindness to the suffering of other species feels unfair when all of society labors under the same condition–when, in fact, our economies depend upon it.

On the other hand, singling out charities (the ones mentioned here are merely examples that randomly presented themselves and were not chosen intentionally) is, perhaps, the place to start the discussion. What is charity if not benevolence? mercy? generosity? compassion? Are these qualities reserved for one species alone? Albert Schweitzer, one of the world’s great humanitarians, said, “Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.”

The holiday season approaches. We’ll be bombarded with requests for donated turkeys and hams to help the less fortunate celebrate seasons of generosity, peace, and hope. Houses of worship, among compassionate others, will distribute the bodies of thinking, feeling beings who suffered from birth to death without a moment of relief, kindness, or hope…ever. The animal industrial complex has convinced us that this is necessary, and good-hearted, charitable people will ensure that no member of our own species goes without.

This post also appears at animal law blog Animal Blawg where comments are accepted.