July 15, 2009


 AVMA to proceed with fish market presentation at convention

AVMA to proceed with fish market presentation at convention
Executive Board responds to objections over tossing of fish in event
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Pike Place Fish Market 

Fishmongers from Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market will give an educational, team-building presentation at the AVMA Annual Convention, despite protests over plans to toss fish—which are real but not alive—during the event.

In an open letter to AVMA members, the Executive Board noted that although real fish are used in the program, the presentation is in line with AVMA guidelines and policies for the responsible use of animals. Workers with Pike Place are known for throwing fish during their work at the market, and their presentations are designed to be motivational and educational.

The group has presented the program to a wide variety of groups since 1990, sharing its successful business plan of engagement and empowerment.

"In addition, Pike Place Fish Market is a cultural icon in Seattle and sets a high standard for community outreach efforts; it was for these reasons the presentation was initially selected as a feature of the Opening Ceremony," the letter states. "It is for these same reasons we reaffirmed our commitment to the presentation."

Fish brought to the opening session presentation will be eaten afterward.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals raised objections to the selection of Pike Place Fish Market for a presentation at a veterinary event and posted an e-mail form on their Web site for people to tell the AVMA they thought the event would be disrespectful to animals and "supportive of cruelty of the fishing industry."

Ashley Byrne, a senior campaigner for PETA, said the AVMA's decision to continue with the Pike Place presentation did not surprise her, and that the AVMA has a "dark history of cozying up to corporate animal abusers." She said fish feel pain and fear, and morally, she sees no difference between throwing a dead fish or a dead dog or cat.

Though PETA has a larger ongoing campaign against fishing and consumption of fish, Byrne said the AVMA's decision to host the Pike Place event was particularly disturbing because veterinarians should promote compassion, rather than callousness, toward animals. She said the AVMA should be fighting against the practices that lead to the painful deaths of fish caught by the fishing industry.

Byrne said she would not be surprised if PETA members protest the presentation during the AVMA Annual Convention, but she did not know of specific plans.

Dr. Lyle P. Vogel, AVMA assistant executive vice president, said the AVMA received input from numerous animal welfare and scientific experts while discussing the issue and options for the opening session. The AVMA has been, and will continue to be, involved in international dialogue regarding animal welfare issues, including those associated with aquatic animals, he said.

"The AVMA starts from a fundamental position that supports the responsible use of animals for human purposes, such as for food, education, and use as pets and companions," Dr. Vogel said. "This is different from the philosophy of PETA."

The Executive Board also said in the open letter to members that PETA's protest appears to be an attempt to "garner media attention and fuel their campaigns against the fishing and agricultural industries."

"In addition, the input received from experts, councils, and committees indicated the majority opposed responding to PETA's demands by cancelling or altering the program," the letter states.

Jeremy Ridgway, a shipping manager for Pike Place, said the market has never before experienced controversy over its presentations. Throwing is the fastest way to move fish from the front of the market to the scales, and he and other workers are not mutilating fish.

"We realize that it's people's food, and we also respect the fish, just because this is our livelihood," Ridgway said.

Ridgway said the fish market's workers support the environment, animals, and animal welfare, but the fish at the market are dead and intended for use as food.

Though the AVMA considered substituting rubber fish for real ones, Ridgway said seeing and touching real salmon has been a "huge experience" for the audiences he has seen, from the Ministry of Manpower in Singapore to school districts in Oklahoma.

He also equated using fake fish with tossing someone a basketball and saying "Here's a fish. Here's what it feels like."

"They're real, they're cold, they're wet, they're slimy," Ridgway said. "You know, that's part of the experience."

People walking by Pike Place who had heard media reports about PETA's objections have expressed support for the market and dismay over the controversy, Ridgway said. One man told him PETA would no longer receive any of his money.

Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Pike Place Market is an icon of tourism in Seattle, and he thinks PETA's objections are a major distraction.

"So we're going to do everything we can to support AVMA and also support the Pike Place Market, which is a great member of ours and a partner of ours in tourism," Norwalk said.