I’m dead serious. Hear me out.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an animal rights group that can count among its accomplishments a broadened public awareness of the cruelty inherent in the fur coat industry, competitive dog fighting, the testing of consumer and medical products on animals, and the treatment of circus and zoo animals. In keeping with its lofty mission, PETA would have humanity forswear the consumption of meat.
PETA also opposes pretty much all of what we fly fishermen can’t get enough of. They contend that fish feel pain and that catch and release fishing is, therefore, tantamount to torture. Catch and kill fishing is also verboten, for it results in not only torture but the consumption of flesh. Fishing tackle left behind often snares birds and animals, resulting in some grisly pain and suffering. At PETA, fishermen don’t get lighter sentences in Hell for the fact that we don’t intend to cause injury to our quarry; a recent PETA commercial features a dog with a hook in its lip and a headline that says, “You wouldn’t do this to a dog. Why would you do it to a fish?”
I’ve heard that fish feel pain and that they don’t. Whatever the truth is, I can’t imagine it’s too fun to run around for several minutes, tethered by the head, and then be forced into an oxygen deprived environment to get my picture taken or, worse, my stomach pumped, especially when I could use the removed food to recover from my recent wind sprint session. Line and hooks left around can indeed hurt other animals in addition to fish. And you’re right, PETA, I wouldn’t hook my dog in the face.
Because that’s what fish are for.
It sounds callous, but the quest for an ethically cool existence vis-à-vis animals really comes down to admitting a few things. For starters, the quest is an impossible one, by virtue of the well-established fact that humans are the world’s all time most awesome apex predators, and there are billions of us in existence. Every bite of food we eat comes at the expense of an animal. Period.
Second, it is simply true that we must hurt a few animals to save them. As president of my local Trout Unlimited chapter, I know that the answer to dwindling numbers of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout is not leaving them alone. If we don’t advocate that people seek them in their native habitat, that they see them in all their glorious color and perfection, we will grow unaware of their existence. It starts with children. We must teach them about ecosystems, that litter and overharvesting suck, that brown, brook and rainbow trout can be detrimental to cutthroats, that respecting the resource is how to make it last, and, most important, that learning all this is loads of fun.
We make it fun by teaching youngsters how to catch fish and look at them up close. It would be nice if we could catch a steelhead by swimming after it and grabbing it by the tail. I imagine such a tactic was tried earnestly in Neanderthal times and since, but I’m sure that funding for such research dried up once our aboriginal forbears invented nets and snares and carved bone hooks. Look on the bright side, PETA, if not for these developments, humans might not have evolved to the point where they could complain about how they evolved.
Seriously though, if we didn’t learn to love hunting and fishing, we would be so much less vested in nature. I’m talking dollars here. Much has been made of Ducks Unlimited’s significant role in protecting wetlands. Elk and turkey groups do amazing work as well, as have fish groups for almost every species that swims. These folks don’t only protect animals either, but entire species, often species they didn’t even intend to help.
Many of these sportsmen (and people who enjoy a perfectly grilled steak) reserve the craziest kind of hatred for PETA. They really love nailing PETA for its hypocrisy, as though doing so is difficult. In its advocacy against predator reintroduction, PETA cites the stress caused by new environments on wolves and their societies. They bemoan the disruption to prey species accustomed to predator-free environments, as though these animals haven’t seen the absolute meanest curveballs in nature. In less charitable moments, I enjoy seeing PETA in the company of anti-predator groups going by the slogan, “Smoke a Pack a Day” . I wonder what PETA’s position would be on reintroducing wiped out songbirds into established house cat habitat or what they would have me do about Rio Grande Cutties besieged by introduced rainbows.
Then there’s PETA’s position on wild horses, that they should be allowed to run free and not get packed off to the Sudan to help the folks there, well, survive. By all legitimate accounts, wild horses are horrible for wildlife such as antelope, prairie dogs and grouse, as well as for the mammals and birds that prey on those species. In the horses’ main range, the Bonneville Cutthroat trout is hanging on by the skin of its teeth, and you’ve got this big introduced herbivore contributing to erosion.
PETA’s positions on these and so many other issues have nothing to do with the ethical treatment of animals and are, by PETA’s own standards, unconscionable. So why should we support this organization? Because for all its ignorance and selective application of biology, PETA is honest. PETA wants to eliminate fishing and hunting, not just a little bit, but in the most complete way possible. Can you imagine that, not fishing? No? Well PETA can paint you a picture.
And when it does, note that there are plenty of other characters out there that are less than honest. There’s the housing developer sending contaminated runoff into your home stream, who says, “We’ve studied it. There’s no impact.” There’s the Game and Fish Department growing a fish in a concrete tank and calling it a steelhead. There’s the oil and gas driller who wants to borrow a million gallons of water from your aquifer and give it back broken. There’s a gold mining company that would build a tailings lake at the headwaters of the WORLD’S MOST PRODUCTIVE SALMON ECOSYSTEM and promise they’ve got your back if anything happens.
So we need PETA, in a very real and unironic way. I’m not saying you have to go veggie or send them a check. But keep a close eye on them, if only to understand what would happen if they somehow got people to take them seriously.