CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — A Florida animal rights activist was found guilty of misdemeanor theft and fined $500 for throwing a fisherman’s tilapia back into the water.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Judge Robert Ditmer found Michael Leaming guilty in a non-jury trial Nov. 16. Leaming and his young son had gone to a park last year after taking part in a protest at a fast-food restaurant. The boy saw Robert Hope had left a fish he had caught on a concrete deck. Leaming’s son told the Hope family, “Did you know fish feel pain?”

Testimony showed Leaming then escalated the argument, finally throwing the tilapia back in the water. He yelled, “Call the police! I just saved a fish’s life.”

Did you know that Florida law prohibits people from messing with hunters and fishermen? It does, and it’s stated pretty clearly.

Florida Statute 379.105: Harassment of hunters, trappers, or fishers.—

(1) A person may not intentionally, within a publicly or privately owned wildlife management or fish management area or on any state-owned water body:

(a) Interfere with or attempt to prevent the lawful taking of fish, game, or nongame animals by another.

(b) Attempt to disturb fish, game, or nongame animals or attempt to affect their behavior with the intent to prevent their lawful taking by another.

Now, in the case of the tilapia-tosser, this wasn’t the law used to prosecute. Instead, Leaming was convicted of petit theft, having stolen a fish valued at $6 from the Hopes, who were planning to eat it.

It’s a weird world that we live in, and there are many people who would like to see our “barbaric” outdoor sports eliminated. Personally, I think we could all do with a little more live-and-let-live attitude — you do your thing, I’ll do mine, and we’ll stay out of each other’s way (as long as you’re not messing things up for me).

But since a lot of folks would rather get up in somebody else’s business, it’s nice to know the state has our backs on this one. Here’s hoping you never need this law.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@


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