Fishers fight over sadistic display
KALISPELL, Montana––Shooting fish in a barrel, long a metaphor for the most unsporting forms of hunting, has a correlative at Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, a Bass subsidiary since 2017.
To hook children on recreational killing, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s stores from time to time offer free access to “catch and release ponds” for children who come with their parents.
The ponds are basically wading pools stocked with fish from a nearby hatchery, who may be caught over and over again during the course of the “Gone Fishing” promotions.
Caught, released, & killed anyway
If the fish survive the repeated hooking and handling, each Bass Pro Shop and Cabela’s store afterward has to dispose of them somehow.
Because the fish may have been exposed to pathogens, they cannot be returned to the hatcheries.
Because the fish are usually not native to the region where they are used by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, state regulations typically prohibit releasing them alive in any manner.
Sometimes the fish are donated to wildlife rehabilitation centers.
Dumped & stomped
But personnel at the Cabela’s store in Kalispell, Montana, including several women, decided after a Father’s Day “Gone Fishing” promotion to dump the fish out on the parking lot pavement and stomp on them.
Kalispell, population 22,000, hub of a regional population of 93,000, bills itself as “the largest city and commercial center of northwest Montana,” and “the gateway to Glacier National Park.”
Fishing on nearby Lake Kalispell and hunting in the surrounding mountains are ubiquitous local pastimes, attracting much of the regional tourism as well.
Michael Johnson, a retired U.S. Navy Seabee whose Facebook profile photos feature both hunting and fishing, happened to see the Cabela’s fish stomp.
His response was probably not what anyone at Cabela’s expected.
Posted Johnson to Facebook minutes later, at 3:44 p.m. on Father’s Day, illustrating his comment with cell phone video he took of the stomping, “So on my way to take my wife a coffee at work, I see the local Cabela’s staff cleaning out the fish tank that they have had set up for some time now for one of their local events, and now I see how they get rid of the fish. This is absolutely disgusting. When I first pulled up they were cheering as they smacked these fish in the head with clubs. Not sure what the policy is on this, but I don’t think on Father’s Day afternoon is probably your best time to be beating and stomping on fish. Thanks, Bass Pro Shop and Cabala’s, for making it an easy choice not to shop at your stores ever again. Please share! This makes me so damn sick.”
Johnson was not the only Kalispell resident to have a similar response.
Posting several times to one of the comment strings that Johnson started, and later weaving her separate postings together into one detailed account, Whitney Trainer wrote, “Daniel and I took the girls to Cabela’s yesterday, so that Daniel could do some Father’s Day shopping.
“We walked up and saw the pool of fish and Maddox looked at all the beautiful fish and was amazed and thought they were really cool.
“We went about our shopping,” Trainer continued, including walking “over to PetSmart to let our daughters look at the little animals.
“My blood boiled”
“When we came out,” Trainer said, “we saw they were draining the pool. At first it just looked like they were catching the fish and putting them in a bucket to transport somewhere else, but then we saw these women beating the fish over the head, laughing about it and making a game out of it by keeping points of whoever could make the fish dead in the bucket.
“As we walked to the car,” Trainer recounted, “I held my three-year-old’s hand while she watched these people be inhumane to these fish. My blood boiled. Both Daniel and I were upset and just disgusted that these people could act this way, that they could do this in front of the store on Father’s Day, with children walking by and watching them do this.
Confronted Cabela’s employee
“We loaded the girls back up into the car, and then I just couldn’t stand it anymore. So I walked back into the store and spoke with a woman,” Trainer said, “who knew I was pissed because my voice was shaking when I was talking to her. I asked what they were doing with the fish.
“She advised that they go to a wildlife center to feed the birds, which great, awesome, but I told her that the way these employees are handling this right now is appalling and disgusting. There are better ways and better places to handle this.
“I’m so disgusted and disappointed that Cabelas would allow their employees to do this in the front of the store especially on Father’s Day,” Trainer posted, that “I want to no longer go in a Cabela’s.
“It’s not about trying to save the fish,” Trainer stipulated. “It’s about the way they laughed and giggled and made a game out of it , and handled it in the most unprofessional way possible, with kids watching them. That’s what the anger is about.”
Even before Trainer completed her response, ANIMALS 24-7 had been alerted to Johnson’s posting and video by an avid recreational fisher in Florida.
ANIMALS 24-7 immediately forwarded the video to Cabela’s, asking what the company intended to do in response.
Replied a customer service representative, identifying herself as Sierra B., “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. These actions reflect a clear violation of our policies and procedures for animal care, which are based on the highest professional standards and a deep respect for wildlife. We’re taking appropriate action to ensure it does not happen again.”
Within hours we received several copies of an identically worded statement sent to others who contacted Cabela’s, but the response to ANIMALS 24-7 was one of only two that included a signature. The other, received by NBC Montana reporter Marian Davidson, was signed by Bass Pro Group director of communications Jack Wlezien, the probable actual author of the statement.
ANIMALS 24-7 also forwarded the Johnson video and his personal comment to Mary Finelli, founder of the fish advocacy organization Fish Feel, and forwarded the Cabela’s response as soon as it arrived. Finelli promptly shared all of it with Fish Feel followers.
This was about 24 hours into the developing controversy, noted by mass media at that point only by NBC Montana, but already generating thousands of heated comments online––all either appended directly to Michael Johnson’s first posting, or posted to social media groups serving fishers and hunters.
Comments by vegetarians, vegans, and opponents of all fishing and hunting did not begin to appear until after Finelli shared the Johnson video and his remarks.
Window of insight
The first 24 hours of comments therefore offered a unique window of insight into what self-defined “sportsmen” say about stomping fish from a barrel, pro and con.
Collecting what appeared to be the first 450 comments, ANIMALS 24-7 identified the apparent first 215 individual participants in the debate, including Johnson, Trainer, and 213 more.
Among them were 88 other men and 37 other women who joined Johnson and Trainer in denouncing the Cabela’s fish-stomping, offset by 87 men and two women who endorsed it, defended it, and often vehemently attacked Johnson, Trainer, and other critics of the fish-stomping in intensely personal terms.
Altogether, 58% of the debate participants opposed the fish-stomping, including 95% of the women who commented, but only 41% of the men, only marginally more than supported it.
None opposed killing fish
None of the 215 people among the sampling of fishers and hunters stated categorical opposition to killing fish, or to killing fish as recreation.
None actually opposed killing the fish at Cabela’s, either, except to argue that the fish should have been used to stock fishing habitat in the wild.
Stated reasons for opposing the Cabela’s fish-stomping included that it was perceived as a cruel and disrespectful way in which to kill fish, that it was done in an inappropriate place and time, that it should not have been done in public, and that it amounted to “wasting game.”
Many commenters cited multiple objections to the fish-stomping.
Opponents of the fish-stomping appeared to be somewhat older, on average, than those who defended it, and much more often mentioned children and significant others.
Indeed, only one defender of the fish-stomping mentioned having children; none mentioned a spousal partner or a sibling, and just one mentioned a parent.
Among opponents, the issue was the incident
Among opponents of the fish-stomping, 12% specifically stated personal fishing and hunting credentials, which were already a given for participation in the forums involved.
About 5% of the male opponents of the fish-stomping made aggressive statements toward those on the opposite side of the debate, most often alleging mental deficiencies and twice alleging inbreeding among those who favored fish-stomping.
Only one opponent of the fish-stomping linked favoring it to any other public controversy. That individual asserted that a person who defended the fish-stomping was “probably a Democrat piece of shit.”
For more than 99% of the opponents of the fish-stomping, either the only issue or the primary issue was specifically the treatment of the fish at Cabela’s in Kalispell.
Among defenders, the issue was identity
Among defenders of the fish-stomping, by contrast, the primary issue for 71% appeared to be not the fish-stomping itself, but rather defense of personal identity and lifestyle.
Thirty individuals, amounting to 35% of the defenders of the fish-stomping, attempted to demasculinize the opponents with terms including crybaby, little girl, snowflake, gay, sissy, pansy, butt hurt, whiny liberal bitches, and pussies. Some also made somewhat more elaborate suggestions such as “give them a pillow and pacifier,” and “run back home to mommy and daddy to get your milk.”
Seventeen individuals (20%) linked opposition to fish-stomping to unrelated controversies, alleging that the opponents were treehuggin yahoos, hippies, yuppies, liberals, and/or vegans, who should get a life, get a job, or go hug a tree, voted for Hillary, and most improbably, given the forums, were members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Another 14 individuals (16%) made additional aggressive statements toward opponents, mostly describing their own purported violent behavior.
“Fish don’t have feelings”
One of the more bizarre allegations from defenders of the fish-stomping was that the opponents “probably flushed a few dozen goldfish after they killed them from neglect.”
Inevitably religious beliefs were raised. Asserted one Chris Hughes, “Fish don’t have feelings. They were created by God for the soul [his spelling] purpose of consumption. Even Jesus caught and ate fish. All the tree huggers and vegans are the only ones whose feelings are hurt here.”
Hughes was factually incorrect, both about fish and about Biblical history.
As Ferris Jabr pointed out in January 2018 edition of The Smithsonian, with extensive references, “It’s official: fish feel pain. Whether or not fish feel pain has been debated for years. But the balance of evidence says yes. Now the question is, what do we do about it?”
The Bible, meanwhile, includes many passages in which Jesus associates with fishers, and he is said to have fed fish to his followers in the “Miracle of the loaves and fishes,” but there are no passages in which Jesus himself actually fishes or eats fish.
Changing the subject
Sarcastically responding to Hughes, a Jack Davis wrote, “My grandma had a picture of Jesus stomping fish hanging above her mantel.”
Resumed Hughes, undeterred, “I guess it would be more respectful if these people just killed the eggs inside the fish instead of the fish itself. I mean everyone’s okay with doing that to thousands of human babies every day. But kill a fish and people go nuts. Everyone is so upset about a few fish. What about the thousands of human babies being aborted and murdered every single day?”
Agreed someone named Cody Chylik, “Chris Hughes amen. These liberals go bananas of a fkin fish being killed but support murdering innocent babies, unreal!”
Among all 215 commenters, however, not one had offered even a hint of being politically liberal, and none of the opponents of fish-stomping had expressed any view relevant to the abortion issue, while 21 of them (16%) had mentioned having children.