A video of an animal rights group accosting anglers and throwing back a caught 4-pound tilapia in St. Petersburg, Florida has gone viral within the past couple days and, in turn, created some very strong, polarizing responses. Of course, Braising the Wild had to weigh in.
In the video—recorded by a family member of one of the fisherman—the animal-rights group Direct Action Everywhere Pinellas, led by Kayla Leaming, confronts the two anglers after witnessing a recently caught tilapia flop about on the pavement. Leaming picks up the fish and chucks it back into the water, immediately angering both fishermen. Both fishermen, encouraged by a woman present, let the incident go and attempt to ignore Leaming, though he continues to voice his agenda and his beliefs, which include the quote, “It’s not food. It’s violence.”
First off, I am immediately immensely impressed with the poise of the two anglers in this video. As stated across social media forums, countless other fishermen would have taught Leaming what “violence” really means.
Regardless, let me preface everything I am about to say with the following: I respect every individual’s right to believe what they choose to believe—in regard religion, politics, whatever. I admire Leaming’s zealot passion for a creature’s life, though, to be fair, I believe he undermines that message by frightening nearby children with the scene he causes.
Nevertheless, Leaming is entitled to his beliefs. However, when he—or anyone in defense of any topic for that matter—forces those beliefs upon others, that is where I take issue. (Additionally, Leaming’s actions were quite illegal, as harassing anglers and hunters is a criminal offense in several states, including Florida.)
I would never expect Leaming to sit down and eat a barbecued pheasant with me, so why should he forcefully decide whether a fisherman can keep a fish to feed his family? It appears he thinks his point of view is bolstered by more evidence and thus the stronger argument, meaning all others’ views lack authority. At surface level, he makes somewhat of a convincing argument: “Fishing causes pain to other beings.”
We could talk about some science behind that, but for every source out there suggesting fish do not feel pain in the manner we do, mainly because they lack a neocortex and a required set of nerve fibers, it seems there is another source contesting fish do, in fact, feel pain. However, some of the same points made in the defense of “fish feel pain” could be applied to plants, thus suggesting, “plants might feel pain.” At the very least, some scientists suggest, plants are aware when they’re being eaten or harvested.
The bottom line: without living as a fish (or a plant, even), there is really no way to know for certain. I do believe the angler in this video, viewed from DAEP’s perspective, should have dispatched his fish quicker, or at least placed it on a stringer or in a basket and back in the water.
All that aside, there is one fundamental fact any free-thinking animal-rights advocate is forgetting: Your meat-loving ancestors hunted and fished tirelessly, gorged themselves on carcasses dripping with blood so your kind—the human species—could evolve to the point where you become cognizant enough to not give a shit about your natural instincts or facts in general.
As noted by an August 2010 NPR story, our earliest ancestors ate their food raw and much of that food was fruits and leaves and maybe nuts. Because this diet wasn’t high in calories, they needed to forage more, chew more, digest more and, thus, burn more calories. During this period, according to professor emeritus Leslie Aiello, an anthropologist and President of Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren donated Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, digestion was the “energy-hog” of our primitive ancestors’ bodies.
Because our primitive ancestors were using up so much energy to simply eat and survive, the brain remained well under-developed, until they discovered meat. “What we think is that this dietary change around 2.3 million years ago was one of the major significant factors in the evolution of our own species,” Aiello said. From henceforth, our bodies, no longer having to spend so much energy and time processing food, could devote more effort to building our big brains, which would eventually separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom.
We learned to make tools and perfect ways of processing and cooking foraged goods and meat. We even discovered—as noted by anthropologist Richard Wrangham in the same NPR story—a balanced diet improves the health of both body and mind.
Knowing the science behind the evolution of our species, I would think, should imbue the opinions of animal-rights group with a greater sense of humility, or, at the very least, admission. If it weren’t for your primitive ancestor chawing on antelope, Leaming, you would still be scratching your head and picking berries from your ass instead of standing alongside the checkout aisle of a grocery store, dressed in all black, holding a package hotdogs of with a sullen look on your face and an iPhone 6 clipped to your belt.
I could continue writing on this subject for pages. This very topic certainly deserves a pamphlet, if not its own book. But on these occasions when I engage in such a discourse, I ask the person with whom I am speaking to look me in the eyes (obviously hard to do in this medium, though).
“What do you see,” I ask.
“Another set of eyes, forward-facing, staring right back at you.”
In Death in the Long Grass by Peter Hathaway Capstick, he presents the following, very poignant view, one we should ALL remember:
“…haven’t you ever wondered why human eyes face forward as do those of every other land predator or bird of prey? Think of the herbivores, the prey, the nonmeateaters such as deer or cattle or bluebirds. They have side-facing, defensive eyes. This alone is enough to qualify man, despite the denials of the Bambi-ites, as predators.”
“You may not like it, but it is your heritage. We hunt for the same reason an English Pointer puppy points before it can wobble: generations upon generations of evolutionary selectively urge that course of action. Does this mean that you—yes, you—are an instinctive killer? In my opinion, hell yes, although you have covered it up so you can live with your own image of yourself, as that image was taught to you.”
I’ll reiterate again: I believe in respecting others’ beliefs. And I honestly have respect for Leaming’s mission, just not his execution of said mission.
Still, had it been me on that dock, and you continued to frighten my little girl, I, along with millions of other anglers out there, can promise you: you wouldn’t have been standing on two feet for very long.