Animal rights protesters in Britain have now extended their campaign of sabotage to fishing. Members of the new Campaign for the Abolition of Angling, with its headquarters in Sevenoaks in Kent, have taken to disrupting angling matches by stirring the water with bamboo canes and banging dustbin lids under water to drive the fish away. They have even put on diving suits and swum underwater to make faces at the fish and frighten them away from the anglers. They are demanding that the government impose new legal restrictions on anglers, including a compulsory written examination before a fishing license is granted, a ban on the use of live bait, and no fishing by children under 12 unless supervised by an adult, hi the long run their even more militant successors will want fishing banned altogether, a view that will be strongly supported by the producers of lake and river pollution and acid rain.
They are not alone in their indignation, for many sensitive British animal lovers have long been appalled at the callous anglers’ disregard for the sufferings of fish and the brutality with which fishermen regularly inflict all manner of cruelty and humiliation on our finny friends. They are particularly revolted by the popularity in Britain of the so-called sport of competitive fishing. Every weekend in England the shores and banks of lakes, rivers, and canals are lined with grim-faced men holding poles and wearing rubber boots hued according to social class: green for the gentry, black for the plebeians. The more audacious among them even don drizzleproof hats and waders and, abandoning the terrestrial life for which man was designed, mount an unnatural invasion of the waters, created specifically for the use of the fish and other sea creatures excused a trip in Noah’s Ark. “Can it really be right,” the anti-anglers ask, “for men to enter the sacred river and the .sinless sea in this way?”
The most militant among them argue that, even if we ignore the indignities inflicted on impaled worms and the deceit involved in the use of a lure or a synthetic gleaming fly, fishing is clearly a morally repellent activity. There can be few ceremonial killings worse than that which succeeds the coarse shout of “a bite, a bite” along the shores of a normally peaceful stretch of water. Not for the hapless fish the quick death by bullet or shot of the grouse or stalked stag, nor the chance to make one last run for it granted to the fox, but the long agony of fighting against the hook. “How many anglers,” demand the militant antifishers, “would like to be forced to sprint up and down the bank trying to free themselves from a person-hook baited with a cigarette or a piece of chewing gum by a cunning shark?”
When finally the helpless fish is landed it is left to flop, gasp, and drown in an air its fluttering gills cannot breath, or else it is trapped in a net more constraining than any cage. Later it may be cooked alive at the whim of a gourmet or cast aside to become a tid-bit for some complacent fishy-whiskered pussycat. If the fish is especially large its corpse may even be preserved in a glass case stuck above a grimy “real-ale” bar with a note of its dimensions, not as a tribute to a gallant fish, but to support the boasts of the cruel and mendacious anglers. This is the horrid reality behind the sentimental and heroic tales churned out by icthyaphobes from Izaak Walton to Ernest Hemingway, which have ever served to reproduce the bigoted ideology of atmosphere-breathers’ supremacy. “If fish could read,” say the anti-anglers, “it would take their breath away.”
The public conscience of much of the rest of Europe, and especially of those regions where there is nowhere to fish, has also been revolted by the gross inequality between the beings of land and water practiced in Britain. A strong movement for the rights of fishes has long been gathering force in the European Community, and Britain may well be faced with having to defend itself in a variety of Euro-courts against law suits brought by determined fish-lovers. Indeed, the radical Franciscan exponent of liberation theology, Amato Calamari (whose criticisms of Saint Peter caused so much controversy last year), has recently denounced the English as “not Angles, not angels, but anglers” and called for a boycott of Cornish pilchards.
More ominous still are the activities of the violent fish liberation front in France, which has been snipping anglers’ lines with scissors and easting so much bread upon the waters that the sated fish ignore the beguiling baits held out by the rod-wielders. Fishmongers’ shops have been daubed with the slogan “Poissonier = Poison,” and there are fears that this new militancy could lead to the criminal contamination of tins of snoek. Of course most genuine fish activists deplore the use of violence and indeed see the brutality of the present world as a mere extension of unrestrained piscatorial aggression. Nonetheless there are many who feel that only in this way can the rights and liberties of fishes be attained and the dignity of aquatic creatures everywhere upheld. Right now 1 would not care to be in the shoes of the fishermen.