Are fish cute? You may recall a PETA anti-fishing campaign a few years ago attempting to rebrand fish as “sea kittens.” It was widely mocked. But picking up where PETA failed, expect the Humane Society of the United States to begin campaigning more aggressively against fishing and eating sushi.
The notorious HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle has acknowledged what PETA saw as the limitation in a campaign against fishing. In an interview, Pacelle agreed that the reason he didn’t campaign against fishing was because they weren’t “furry and cute.”
So HSUS is now adopting an intellectual approach. Over the past several months, Jonathan Balcombe, an HSUS employee, has been laying the groundwork for the idea that fish have personalities. Call it the “Little Nemo” strategy.
Balcombe is formerly with the so-called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a vegan advocacy group with PETA ties and a checkered past. He was also with the failed Humane Society University (which wasn’t a real university), and is now with HSUS’s Institute for Science and Policy (at least partially a misnomer).
In June, Balcombe published What a Fish Knows, a book arguing that fish have sentience. And quietly, HSUS has begun offering papers on its website from Animal Sentience, which purports to be a scientific journal. On its website, you’ll find articles such as “Cognitive evidence of fish sentience,” “Are Animals Persons?,” and “Fish sentience and the precautionary principle.”
Behind all the academic-speak, let’s be clear what HSUS’s goals are: No more sushi. No more blackened salmon entrees. No more fishing for trout and bass in the local river with your family. “There isn’t any justification for eating a fish instead of chicken,” Balcombe declares.
To get an idea of Balcombe’s comrades-in-arms, we need only look at his Reddit AMA last month. When asked about why groups like HSUS aren’t as aggressive as PETA on fishing, he dodges the question. But he does hat-tip Paul Watson, the head of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Watson is an international fugitive, and a U.S. federal court has declared Sea Shepherd to be a pirate group. (Watson is also the subject of a hilarious South Park episode, “Whale Whores.”)
Balcombe is so far out of the mainstream that he compares eating meat to racism. From his blog:
The folks next door stopped in the other day to give us a tin of cookies as a Christmas offering. You couldn’t ask for more amicable, helpful neighbors. They also love animals, feeding the deer and squirrels and drawing flocks of wild birds with their ever-filled feeders. As we hugged and shook hands in greeting, we asked what their plans for Xmas were. Barb said they had been invited to a friend’s place where—and at this point she leaned in with a hushed and confiding tone—they would visit the homes of several prominent niggers and burn crosses on their front lawns.
Of course, I made up that last bit. Barb and Paul are not in the least bit racist. What Barb really said was that their friends had invited them over to have roast lamb. For me, that was just as jarring, if less surprising, than if she really had admitted to terrorizing black Americans.
He’s not alone in noxious analogies. HSUS food policy director Matt Prescott created a PETA campaign comparing modern farms to Nazi concentration camps (and he was accused by the Holocaust Museum of being dishonest, to boot).
Back to fishing. HSUS’s strategy is to anthropomorphize fish just as it does with other animals. Is it a harder lift? Sure. People still don’t view fish as particularly cute compared to charismatic megafauna. But make no mistake, HSUS will work to get rid of fishing any way it can.