The activists said that if the fish had been a dog or a cat, they would have been hailed as heroes.
Photo via Flickr user Rogerio da Silva
You know how the saying goes: Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he'll be harassed by animal rights activists who will pick up his fish and throw it back into the water. That's what a man named Bob Hope said happened when he and his family tried to fish at a public park in St. Petersburg, Florida over the weekend—and the activists made sure that the Hopes would be eating dinner out that night.
Hope told ABC Action News that he was enjoying an otherwise pleasant day of tilapia fishing when his afternoon was interrupted by a group of protestors. It started, he said, when an eight-year-old boy approached him to tell him that fish feel pain and that he was hurting everything he caught. Things escalated from there, when the boy's adult friends showed up and started berating Hope, his parents, and his one-year-old son.
"I turned to [the boy] and said, 'I respect your opinion but I don't share your opinion so we're going to continue fishing,'" Hope told WTSP. "That's when six or seven people ambushed us that what we were doing is wrong and we're hurting the fish." Hope said that his mother put her foot on the sidewalk to protect a fish that her husband had caught, and one of the protesters physically moved her leg before throwing the fish back into the water. ("Fishing causes pain to other beings," protester Mike Leaming shouted into Hope's mother's camera, as she filmed the confrontation.)
The activists, part of the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere, says that they're heroes for saving that four-pound fish. "If this animal was a dog or a cat, we would be labeled heroes, but because we saved a fish, everybody is trying to make us out to be monsters," Kayla Leaming told WFLA. (The Leamings' son is the one who initially confronted Hope).
Hope eventually had enough and called the St. Petersburg Police Department, but the officers arrived after the protesters had finished… doing whatever it was they were doing, and after the fish had already been thrown back in the pond. Hope said that he felt like his family was targeted and harassed—and he believes that catching his dinner would've actually helped the environment. "That fish was an invasive tilapia," he told TampaBay.com. "They're destroying the ecosystem and killing our bass population."
Florida does have a statute that prohibits the harassment of fisherman, hunters and trappers, preventing anyone from "[interfering] or [attempting] to prevent the lawful taking of fish, game or nongame animals." It is unclear why the St. Petersburg PD didn't enforce this statute, although maybe it's just because the Leamings and their pals had settled down by the time they arrived at the park.
"When the officer arrived, the protesters were already getting in their cars," the Department said in a statement. "The primary concern for the officer was to restore the peace and the officer didn't witness any disorderly conduct or criminal activity [...] Whether one agrees with the message or not, any group has a right to free speech in a public park."
MUNCHIES has reached out to Direct Action Everywhere for comment on the matter but has not yet received a response.