Throwing a hissy fish

PETA objects to the Pike Place fish tossers, but they'd do better if they focused on a real menace: fish sticks.
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Flying Fish as a management philosophy

PETA objects to the Pike Place fish tossers, but they'd do better if they focused on a real menace: fish sticks.

Seattle's Pike Place Market fish tossers are under fire. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently objected to a fish-tossing exhibition for a veterinarian's convention. A PETA spokesperson said "Killing animals so you can toss their bodies around for amusement is just twisted," although it should be pointed out that no one is killing the salmon just to throw them. We're killing them to eat them, as people in the Northwest have since the last glaciers retreated.

PETA's latest complaint achieved what many such complaints often do: provided skeptics with evidence that you can crush the life out of empathy by squeezing it into a rigid, scolding ideology.

The number one symbol of Seattle's number one tourist attraction is those flying fish. Personally, I prefer my fresh fish treated better (salmon does bruise). The only place to toss salmon is in a salad or onto the barbecue. Given that the salmon are already dead, heaving them around for efficiency and scenic effect otherwise seems pretty harmless.

If anyone wants to criticize the political correctness of fish tossing, I suppose it might be better to start with the fact that the Pike Place fish guys have turned their schtick into a kind of management consulting business. I had a cousin in town from Scotland who works on a North Sea oil rigs. I was stunned when he told me what brought him and his mates to Seattle was seminar on team-building put on by fish tossers. So the fish-throwers are helping giant corporations run their off-shore oil operations. I don't object, but if you're eager to get your PC panties in a wad over something, it's all I have to offer.

The PETA move is part of a broader initiative called the Fish Empathy Project, which is to get us all to give up eating fish because they are individuals. PETA is also touting new research suggesting that fish feel pain, though there's still a debate about that. But that hasn't stopped some from trying to re-brand fish as "sea kittens."

If it's true that fish are individuals, I witnessed America's national symbol, a non-vegan bird of prey, eat one in a tree the other day at Seward Park. I watched with fascination; I did not call 911 and report a murder.

To further its efforts, PETA is making a bid to take over some old, surplus, government lighthouses around the country. One's in Michigan:

The way the internationally known animal rights group sees it, Grand Haven would be a perfect place to serve passersby faux fish sticks (made of plant protein and spices) in a modest cafe and inform guests all about the feelings of fish — how, according to PETA director Sarah King's letter, scientists have determined that fish show affection by rubbing against each other, develop individual personalities, talk to each other, and grieve. Some fish, she says, are even "capable of using tools," while others can eavesdrop.

It's here we should remember that we humans evolved from sea creatures, and one day, especially if what PETA says is true, a new species will likely evolve capable of coming ashore with its own tools and crushing our heads in order to make us into dinner (land shark!!). What goes around comes around, so when that day happens, I don't think we fish eaters should complain if they toss our bodies to one another before a meal. Fair is fair.

PETA is making sense about fish sticks. I had another relative who worked in a fish packing warehouse here in Seattle and he was well familiar with the quality and condition of what came out of the holds of fishing vessels. In fact, he'd shoveled the substance that's left behind when you empty a hold full of fish. The one piece of advice he gave me and that I have lived by ever since: Never eat a fish stick. Ever.

So, PETA's idea to sell the public faux fish sticks from lighthouses seems like a good one. You can toss them to customers without hurting anyone's sensibility. Unless soy beans are sentient too.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.