MANATEE -- Final score: Terra Ceia Mullets 98, PETA 0.
All 98 members of the Terra Ceia Village Improvement Association who attended a meeting Thursday voted not to capitulate to a request from People for the Ethnical Treatment of Animals, aka PETA, to ban the historic mullet toss at this year’s Mullet Smoke-Off fundraiser Nov. 12.
The residents said they didn’t feel the tradition of throwing three dead mullet was harmful in anyway.
The 98-0 vote was followed by enthusiastic applause and the waving of a handmade sign by Jean Morrow that read, “Let the Mullet Fly.’ ”
PETA’s reaction to the vote was one of disappointment.
“Obviously, we are disappointed that this was voted down,” Dave Byer, PETA manager of corporate affairs, said Thursday night by phone from Los Angeles.
“Tradition is never an excuse for cruelty. Just because people don’t think of fish as cute and cuddly doesn’t mean we should treat them differently and disrespectfully.”
Byer said he is not sure what PETA’s next move will be.
“We will have to look at our options,” he said.
Thursday’s regularly scheduled November meeting of the Terra Ceia Village Improvement Association was supposed to be a covered-dish Thanksgiving meal with no new business.
Instead it became a covered-dish Thanksgiving meal with one item of new business, answering a letter sent Tuesday from PETA to Bob Zonies, association president, urging him to cancel the mullet toss because it makes a game of throwing a dead animal.
Every year for the past 13 at the Smoke-Off, 15 or so fishermen catch mullets in their nets for the event and smoke them for judges and hungry mullet fans.
But they keep three dead mullets for eventgoers to toss into a wheelbarrow, wash tub or toilet on wheels, a bit of fisherman fun for prizes, said Melissa Longdon, coordinator of the food-filled event at Seabreeze Park on Terra Ceia Island, north of Palmetto off U.S. 19.
But PETA heard about the toss and indicated not even just one tossed dead mullet is acceptable.
During a lengthy discussion period, no resident felt PETA’s point was valid, since the three fish are dead and would later provide food for area wildlife.
The meeting served up a hefty helping of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm.
“Since we are throwing a dead mullet, to me the only problem is that the relatives of the mullet may see what is happening and be distraught,” offered resident John Leps. “My suggestion is that we build a barrier, a visual screen if you will, high enough so that the arc of the highest toss could not be visible to family members in the bay.”
One resident wondered if mullets that “have died a natural death” could be found for the toss.
There was one scallywag who suggested catfish or dogfish for the toss.
On a serious note, Alicia Sebacher said she felt PETA has lost its way and polarized many.
“It’s a shame that a lot of extremists have ruined a good cause,” she said.
Residents also were not happy with the barrage of emails they have received.
Zonies said he stopped counting after receiving more than 100 emails from PETA members urging a stop to the toss.
Association member D.J. Borbidge received an email from a St. Petersburg real estate agent who threatened never to sell a piece of property in Terra Ceia if the toss took place.
“They called us uncivilized and the dregs of the earth,” Borbidge said. “I find that odd being that we are the same residents who have helped preserve a piece of Old Florida. This is over three dead mullets.”
Byer said the same reaction occurred when PETA focused on wearing fur, which is now something most people find unacceptable.
“When the issue of fur first came out it was viewed as irrational, but society has come to realize that using the fur off an animal is not right and now that is a popular view,” Byer said.
But Frank Borbidge, D.J.’s husband, accuses PETA of being insensitive and uncaring to people, not animals.
“I found it offensive that we were slandered as a group,” he said. “They called us inhumane. They went way overboard.”
Hours of the Smoke-Off are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.