MANATEE -- There’s a fomenting fracas over flushed fish in Terra Ceia.
It started Tuesday when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent a letter to Robert Zonies, president of the Terra Ceia Village Improvement Association, urging him to cancel the annual “mullet toss” at this year’s Terra Ceia Mullet Smoke-Off fundraiser, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 12.
Each year, contestants try their hand at throwing dead mullets into a toilet, wheelbarrow or a wash tub, which are positioned a challenging distance away at Seabreeze Park in Terra Ceia.
Tossers get three throws for $5. A successful throw could earn tossers half the entrance pot.
The toss has been a tradition at the Smoke-Off for the past 13 years, said Melissa Langdon, event organizer. But a PETA official said Monday that it doesn’t matter that the tossed fish are dead.
“It sends a terrible message to kids when adults are throwing the carcasses of animals,” said Dave Byer, PETA’s manager of corporate affairs based in Los Angeles. “If you wouldn’t throw a dead puppy or kitten into a toilet, why throw a dead fish?”
One or more concerned people had notified PETA about the mullet throw, Byer said Monday.
Byer said studies have shown that fish are capable of feeling pain and suffering, so that throwing a fish carcass is the same as throwing the carcass of any higher-level animal, like a dog or cat.
PETA is not asking the association to stop smoking and eating mullet, however.
“It would be great if they served vegan,” Byer said. “But we are only asking them to stop playing with dead bodies.”
Association officials were a bit stunned by Monday’s letter and a decision has been made to let association members from roughly 176 households vote on PETA’s request at 7 p.m. Thursday during a regularly scheduled meeting at the Terra Village Association Hall, Langdon said.
“What PETA really doesn’t understand is that no fish goes to waste after the throw,” Langdon said. “It is all food. It feeds the other life that is out here.”
Long-time association member D.J. Borbidge, a passionate environmentalist, was stunned by the letter.
She has seen many mullet tosses and has never been put off by them, she said.
“It’s a fisherman event and it’s part of the tradition,” Borbidge said. “No one ever thought we were doing anything wrong. I think there will be a little shock over this.”
During the Smoke-Off, between 15 and 20 fishermen catch their own mullet and smoke them. Judges give awards for the best smoked mullet and the mullet toss follows the judging, Langdon said.
There is also plenty of food to eat, including the Smoke-Off’s famous smoked mullet meal, which consists of mullet, potato salad, baked beans and hush puppies for $7.
Eighty percent of all the money raised from the Smoke-Off goes to the Terra Ceia Village Improvement Association to maintain Seabreeze Park and the Village Improvement Association Hall, Langdon said.
Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Manatee County School District’s “Teacher’s Wishing Well,” so teachers can buy supplies, Langdon said.
Organized in 1910, the Terra Ceia Village Improvement Association is the longest ongoing civic association in the state, Langdon said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.