July 12, 2001, 5:48PM
PETA takes issue with Boy Scouts who fish
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Animal rights activists, targeting fishing in their latest campaign on behalf of animals, are taking aim at Boy Scouts who promote the sport.
Boy Scouts of America
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on Thursday unveiled a television ad featuring a Connecticut Boy Scout who urges the scouting group to halt fishing.
"The Boy Scouts would punish someone for torturing and abusing a cat or dog," said Justin Aligata, a member of the Connecticut Rivers Council of the Boy Scouts. "I believe fishing is wrong and I have the courage to say so."
Aligata, 15, told a news conference he has been a vegetarian for two years and, despite ribbing from friends, is undeterred in his anti-fishing crusade.
"We joke around and things, but I've persuaded some to stop fishing," he said.
The 30-second ads will air Friday in Hartford and Friday and Saturday in Dallas, the site of the Boy Scouts of America's national headquarters.
PETA has asked the Boy Scouts of America to remove fishing as an activity included in two merit badges.
Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for the 31,000-member Connecticut Rivers Council of the Boy Scouts, said PETA's campaign is off the mark. Fishing is not a compulsory activity for Boy Scouts nor is it required to earn merit badges, he said.
"People have a right to their viewpoints," Bishop said. "One of the things we teach boys in scouting is to be active citizens. We understand that other people have a right to express their viewpoints and we hope they respect ours."
PETA, based in Irving, Texas, drew fire recently for its anti-milk campaign in billboards that featured New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's bout with prostate cancer and promoting beer as a substitute for a dairy product.
The anti-fishing campaign already has been the butt of some ridicule, but PETA coordinator Dawn Carr brushes aside the criticism.
"We do some shocking, outrageous things," she said. "We try to focus where the most animals are suffering."
What fish feel as they're reeled in isn't fully known by ichthyologists, said Eric T. Schultz, a professor at the University of Connecticut's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
"I don't believe we have enough insight into fish to know how, neurologically, they experience pain," he said. "There's no question that they experience discomfort. All animals can perceive an environment that is not conducive to their functioning."
But to Schultz, one of 55,648 licensed fishermen in Connecticut, "part of the fun of fishing is the struggle of the fish."
Aligata, who owns two cats and a goldfish, has his own ideas about fun.
"Most kids my age are at home watching video," he said. "I'm out here making a difference."