A group of vegans held a "vigil" over the weekend to protest the Wrightsville Beach Inshore Challenge in North Carolina, one of the nation's largest fishing competitions, and to "raise awareness" about animal rights.
Carrying signs that read "Fish Want to Live" and "Sea Life Not Sea Food," the vegan activists told reporters that they wanted to drive home the idea that fish have families, and that they don't want to be ripped from their happy lives under the sea to appear on a dinner plate.
“We’re vegan activists, and we want to bring awareness to what fish go through," one protester told a local news outlet. “Look at it from this fish’s point of view. If you were in your home, you would not want a hook to be hooked in the mouth, you would not want to be pulled up, you wouldn’t have to fight hours for your life to be pulled up. It’s scary.”
Others got philosophical about their mission, comparing their own lives to those of their fishy friends.
“We want to come out for the fish," another protester told reporters. "A lot of times, they look so different from us that you don’t really put them into a position where you give them individual status, where they are actually individuals that want to live. They don’t want to pulled out of the water, fish have families, fish want to live.”
The event organizers were accepting, if a little confused, by the demonstration. The Wrightsville Beach Inshore Challenge is a "conservation-based tournament" and, aside from being hooked and weighed, most of the fish aren't permanently harmed by the "catch-and-release" contest.
“We are very much a conservation-based tournament," one of the organizers, Guy Hurley, told local media. "In fact, we provide extra payout, anglers can win extra money, if they weigh their fish in alive. So we encourage them not to kill the fish, but to weigh the fish alive. And then they get extra money, and we release the fish.”
“Fishermen, in general, are probably the best stewards of the resource," Hurley added. "They care about the resource more than anyone else. I can’t speak to perhaps their claims that fish have feelings, that fish have souls, I mean I’m not sure.”
If they do manage to kill their catch, anglers typically don't keep it. The fishing contest benefits the local Elks lodge and other community organizations, and the fresh caught fish are donated to a local food bank, which hands them out to hungry Wrightsville residents.
The vegans responded that they still want people to "think about what they're eating:" “Is this the correct thing to be doing? Should I be doing this? Should I do a little bit more research and see how intelligent fish are, they have communities, and complex social structures?”