British activist won't let anglers off the hook Another fish lover ignores carping

November 09, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- They are women enlisted in opposing causes. They are women enamored of fish.

Marianne MacDonald is the more quixotic of the two. She is a fish protectionist in a land of 3 million anglers, the country that gave Izaak Walton to the world, author of The Compleat Angler.

Mary Paisley is, quite simply, in love with carp.

"They are the most desirable fish," said Mrs. Paisley of all the carp that lurk in the dark lakes of England. "They are beautiful. Absolutely glorious. Shimmering. Like people, each one is different, so different we give them names."

Names like Scaley, Trio, even Mary.

Mary the Carp, a 25 pounder, was caught by Mary Paisley about three years ago in Birch Grove Lake in Shropshire. The fish was photographed, named and returned to the waters. That is the usual ceremony of carp fishers.

"She comes out about once a year," said Mrs. Paisley. This is a euphemistic way of conveying the fact that Mary the 25-pound carp has been caught and released three times since her namesake first landed her. Scaley, the carp her husband Tim fished out of The Mangrove, another Shropshire lake, gets caught maybe three or four times a year.

"He's greedy," Mrs. Paisley said -- of the carp, not her husband.

From all this, two conclusions present themselves. First, carp loom large in Mr. and Mrs. Paisley's world. Second, they are solicitous toward these creatures.

In fact, they are the editor and advertising director, respectively, of Carp World, a monthly magazine whose title couldn't be more self-explanatory. This magazine, according to Mrs. Paisley, reaches many of Britain's 20,000 to 30,000 anglers who specialize in fishing for carp.

Evidence supporting the second conclusion is seen in Mrs. Paisley's description of the carp fishers' tender regard for their prey: "We never eat them. We treat them like little newborn babies. We have little mats to lie them on to take the hook out. A lot of carp anglers carry an antiseptic for the mouth wound. We photograph them and release them."

Release them?

"Oh, everybody in England always puts them back," she insisted.

Mrs. Paisley is 47 and steeped in carp lore: "They can get very old. They are like trees. You can do scale counts [to determine their ages]. We've just had one die. He died from the equivalent of a heart attack in a human. Trio was its name. He could have been anything like 40 to 50 years old."

A long and happy life.

Not according to Marianne MacDonald, the fiery fish liberationist from Bristol. She sees things differently.

"Angling is the biggest blood sport in this country," she said. "It's just been ignored. Most people find it acceptable to go fishing, they are unaware of the cruelty involved."

She poses difficult questions contrived to yield answers helpful to her point of view: "You wouldn't put a hook in the mouth of a dog or cat and drag it under water, would you? But fish have had a bad deal; they're not furry and can't vocalize pain."

For the carp fisher's expressions of concern for his fish she has only disdain. "What they're actually doing to that animal is hooking it and dragging it out into a suffocating environment."

All that stuff about the tender care is just "embellishments on that basic fact," she said.

Ms. MacDonald, like Mrs. Paisley, has a professional interest in fish. She holds a master's degree in marine biology, she says. She heads the Campaign for the Abolition of Angling, which puts her clearly on the side of the fish, if somewhat out of the mainstream of the animal protection movement in Britain, which tends to lean toward the warm-blooded species, foxes, badgers, that sort of creature.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for instance, does not oppose fishing, although they do publish a code of practice for handling the fish that anglers catch. "We do believe fish can suffer pain," said Liz Cook of the society, but so far the RSPCA only recommends the use of more humane hooks, no live bait, and a quick kill for fish taken for food.

John Bryant of the League Against Cruel Sports sees Ms. MacDonald's crusade as possibly an idea whose time has not yet come. "We don't have a policy yet on angling, but that might change," he said doubtfully. "Certainly it is an issue which will have to be addressed one day."

Ms. MacDonald insists that day is coming sooner than most people think. "We think sympathy [against fishing] is growing, especially among young people."

To bring her message home as forcefully as possible, the 27-year old leader of the Campaign for the Abolition of Angling recently distributed a video showing fishermen being especially cruel to an eel, in fact, sawing off its head.

Asked if the members of her organization engaged in any direct action on behalf of the fish, she said, "Not as far as anything illegal."

Which does not mean they are without active strategies. Mostly they go about throwing pebbles in the water wherever fishermen gather. They row up and down in boats and generally make noise to scare away the fish.

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