WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NC (WECT) - On Saturday, about 10 protesters gathered to raise awareness about ecology and animal rights during a popular fishing tournament, the Wrightsville Beach Inshore Challenge.
The protest, called Vigil for Fish, was organized by the groups Wilmington Fish Save and North Carolina Farmed Animal Save.
"We're vegan activists, and we want to bring awareness to what fish go through," said protester Daniel Veber. "Look at it from this fish's point of view. If you were in your home, you would not want a hook to be hooked in the mouth, you would not want to be pulled up, you wouldn't have to fight hours for your life to be pulled up. it's scary."
Protesters held signs reading "Fish feel pain," "Sea life not seafood," and "Fish want to live" in front of the tournament's weigh-in at the Wrightsville Beach Marina.
The Wrightsville Beach Inshore Challenge is happening July 27 and July 28 at Wild Wing Cafe and Wrightsville Beach Marina. This is the fishing tournament's 13th year.
Gary Hurley, an organizer of the fishing tournament, said he respects the protesters, but replies that the tournament does more good than harm.
"We are very much a conservation-based tournament," said Hurley. "In fact, we provide extra payout, anglers can win extra money, if they weigh their fish in alive. So we encourage them not to kill the fish, but to weigh the fish alive. And then they get extra money, and we release the fish."
Hurley said fishermen mostly support ocean ecology.
"Fishermen, in general, are probably the best stewards of the resource," said Hurley. "They care about the resource more than anyone else. I can't speak to perhaps their claims that fish have feelings, that fish have souls, I mean I'm not sure."
Veber said he is speaking for the fish who cannot speak for themselves.
"We want to come out for the fish," said Veber. "A lot of times, they look so different from us that you don't really put them into a position where you give them individual status, where they are actually individuals that want to live. They don't want to pulled out of the water, fish have families, fish want to live."
The protesters said people should question the necessity of fishing when meat alternatives to food exist.
"We want to bring awareness to the consumer," said Veber. "Is this the correct thing to be doing? Should I be doing this? Should I do a little bit more research and see how intelligent fish are, they have communities, and complex social structures?"
The protest was peaceful.
"If they want a protest, they are certainly welcome to protest. I am glad we live in a place where you can protest," said Hurley.
The organizer said the tournament helps feed people in need by donating food.
"A lot of the fish that we take, we donate to First Fruit Ministries, which is a Wilmington-based food bank that accepts whole fish, and then puts it to people in need. We feel good about what we're doing," said Hurley.
The tournament's winning catch is based on a boat's single heaviest flounder and/or single heaviest red drum fish. More than $15,000 in cash and prizes are set to be given out at the fishing tournament.
The fishing tournament is benefiting the Wilmington Elks, who "invest in their communities through programs that help children grow up healthy and drug-free, by undertaking projects that address unmet need, and by honoring the service and sacrifice of our veterans," according to the tournament's website.
"Our demeanor will be that of people at a funeral for a friend: solemn, sad, and respectful of the dead," according to the protest event's Facebook page.