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All about fish with feelings, shooting cats and other things.

Byline: INSIDE THE OUTDOORS By Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

Better tell you a fish story, before it's too late. If People for Ethical Treatment of Animals gets its way, fishing columns will soon disappear from newspapers across the land.

Karin Robertson, manager of the animal rights group's "Fish Empathy Project," recently wrote editors of newspapers around the country, urging them to "abandon your paper's fishing column."

The PETA spokeswoman's pitch is that "fish are sensitive, intelligent and interesting individuals" that feel pain and, therefore, humans shouldn't kill or hurt them.

"You wouldn't dedicate space in your paper to the recreational abuse of dogs and cats," she wrote, "yet the fishing column encourages cruelty to animals every bit as capable of feeling pain as any dog or cat."

I reckon Robertson missed the recent Associated Press story concerning hunter Mark Smith's proposal to establish an open season on cats in Wisconsin.

It seems Smith - a 48-year-old La Crosse firefighter - has a lot of empathy for birds. He doesn't like all the pain and suffering inflicted on wild birds by free-ranging cats that come onto his property. So Smith is asking the Wisconsin Conservation Congress to declare free-roaming domestic cats an "unprotected species" that could be shot at will by anyone with a small-game license.

Not surprisingly, the AP report said, "Smith's proposal has horrified cat lovers."

Nonetheless, a University of Wisconsin-Madison wildlife ecology professor, Stanley Temple, stepped forward to say "there really is a basis for having a debate" about Smith's "very controversial proposal."

In his research, Temple analyzed the stomach contents of more than 100 cats he trapped over a four-year period. Based on his findings, Temple estimates that a minimum of 7.8 million birds - and probably far more - are killed by rural cats in Wisconsin each year.

Temple argues that free-ranging cats unclaimed by anyone are not "domestic animals" and therefore - like non-native wildlife species as Norway rats, pigeons and starlings - are not protected by law.

"If they are not a pet, if somebody doesn't claim ownership, they become a non-native wildlife species and not entitled to protection by the state," Temple said.

But I digress. After all, I promised you a fish story - in spite of the fact that, according to Robertson, "As no one in their right mind can dispute, fish feel pain, as all animals do." At the very least, she concluded, the fishing column should be moved to "a more appropriate section of the paper - for example, the crime report or the obituaries, where it will blend right in."

Well, my story involves a fish that was not killed, so an obituary is obviously not in order.

But I guess I could treat it like a crime story, because some fishermen still think it would be criminal to release a trophy winter steelhead.

That, according to the Medford Mail Tribune, is what Rob Ginno of Chico, Calif., did after landing the largest Oregon steelhead caught on hook and line in recent years.

Ginno's guide, Jim Dunlevy, hoisted the fish on a digital scale: 28 pounds, 10 ounces. The men quickly measured the fish: 43 inches long, 22 inches around at the dorsal fin. They snapped photos, then set the big buck free.

He didn't have to do that. New harvest rules for the Umpqua River allow anglers to keep one wild fish per day and up to five per year.

"But I don't kill wild fish," Ginno was quoted as saying. "I just don't."

Now, the Outdoors Guy has enough fish empathy to think it admirable to set such a fine fish free. If it passes its genes on to another generation, no harm done.

The people at PETA, however, insist that great pain was inflicted on that fish. Not being a neurologist, I really don't know whether that's true.

I just hope I haven't hurt your feelings by telling you about it, because I'm confident my readers are all "sensitive, intelligent and interesting individuals."

Mike Stahlberg can be reached at mstahlberg@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 24, 2005
Words:670
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