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COLUMN: Kittens, chickens and other sea creatures

A campaign seeks to change the way people think about fish
Do you call these creatures fish, sea kittens or chickens of the sea? (Black Press file photo)

With their poles, nets, tackle boxes, lures and bait, anglers are preparing to spend time in the water in their quest to catch some delicious … sea kittens.

Yes, that’s correct. Sea kittens.

If the organizers behind a campaign organized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have their way, fish would be renamed as sea kittens.

The U.S.-based animal rights organization is campaigning for the name change as a way to give fish a more positive image.

“We’re going to start by retiring the old name for good,” a statement on the Save the Sea Kittens web page reads.

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“When your name can also be used as a verb that means driving a hook through your head, it’s time for a serious image makeover. And who could possibly want to put a hook through a sea kitten?”

The term might seem a bit jarring, but referring to fish as sea kittens could change the way people think of these creatures. Kittens are seen as cute and loveable, but few people would think of cuddling up with a cod or a trout.

The Save the Sea Kittens web page does not stop with the name change. The images also show these creatures as inquisitive and friendly.

They have kitten-like features. The wording also depicts them as having the same qualities often associated with young felines.

This isn’t the first time a name has been chosen to elicit an emotion – and it won’t be the last either.

A fish packaging company, founded in 1914, long ago changed its name from the Van Camp Seafood Company to Chicken of the Sea. That name comes from a term once used to describe albacore tuna.

Today, more than a century later, Chicken of the Sea is a big player in the fish and seafood industry. And it doesn’t use the word “fish” in its name. The company’s identity and reputation are based on many years of hard work, but the name adds to the way the company is perceived.

Sea kittens and chicken of the sea are both carefully chosen phrases, but does the terminology matter?

Whether one refers to a fish, a sea kittle or a chicken of the sea, the end result does not change. Each of these terms refers to a finned, scaled water-dwelling creature.

It does not matter whether the creature in question is known as a sea kitten or a chicken of the sea, or if one uses the Biblical Hebrew word dahg or any other existing term or even a made-up word.

There’s a lot to be said for choosing names and terminology with care. Words have immense power and the terms or phrases one uses can make a difference.

A term or a phrase can alter the way one thinks of an issue. This is something the organizers of the Save the Sea Kittens campaign understand.

The people who selected the Chicken of the Sea company name also recognized the power of words.

Will the renaming campaign work? Probably not. The word “fish” is well-established, with a history dating more than 1,100 years.

At the same time, the image of a sea kitten, especially when accompanied by cute pictures, could change the way people think about fish.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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