A family in Florida was left outraged this week after a group of animal welfare activists confronted them while they were fishing at a park in St. Petersburg.
Bob Hope was fishing with his parents at Crescent Lake Park on Tuesday when the dispute with vegan activists began. Two videos of the incident, including one filmed by Hope’s mom and one filmed by the activists, were shared on social media this week.
Hope told ABC Action News that he and his family were fishing for dinner and had caught a tilapia when a young boy approached them and said, “You know fish feel pain, and you’re hurting that fish.”
Moments later, a group of protesters, some wearing blue shirts that read “Animal liberation now,” appeared from around a corner, grabbed the fish and threw it back into the lake. The family was waiting for Hope’s brother to return to the lake with a bucket for the fish.
“We were suddenly ambushed and harrased by these nut jobs,” Hope wrote on Facebook along with the video below that shows a portion of the confrontation. “They literally pushed my mothers leg and stole the fish and threw it into the water.”
The protesters chanted, “It’s not food, it’s violence” and “Fish feel pain, just like us,” as a man in a blue shirt, identified by the Tampa Bay Times as Mike Leaming, argued with several people.
The group is a local chapter of the national animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, according to local news station WFLA.
Hope called the police after the activist threw the fish back into the lake. “That’s when I decided I didn’t want to return any sort of violence with violence,” Hope told ABC News.
Police officers arrived as the activists were leaving the park, but the St. Petersburg Police Department said that the responding officer didn’t witness any disorderly conduct or criminal activity.
“Whether one agrees with the message or not, any group has a right to free speech in a public park,” police said in a statement to ABC News.
Hope told the Tampa Bay Times that the confrontation was harassment, not a protest. He also said that he and his family left the lake after the incident and fished in another location.
“By the way, that fish was an invasive tilapia,” Hope told the newspaper. “They’re destroying the ecosystem and killing our bass population.”
The activists who confronted Hope’s family were the same group of people who protested at a Chick-fil-A less than 10 miles from the lake earlier Tuesday. The group entered the restaurant with fake knives and blood splatter and screamed at customers in protest of Chick-fil-A’s Cow Appreciation Day special, which offered free entrees to customers who wore cow costumes.
Kayla Leaming, a spokeswoman for Direct Action Everywhere, told WFLA that the fish that Hope’s family caught at the lake was suffering.
“If this animal was a dog or a cat, we would be labeled heroes, but because we saved a fish, everybody is trying to make us out to be monsters,” Leaming told the news station.