Hug your pet carp today. That is the word from your concerned, fish-loving friends at PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals). And for goodness sake don't even think of eating your pet carp's scaly and slippery cousins.

PETA, those sensitive folks who destroy college laboratories and illegally release research animals for the good of those animals and mankind, now say fish are intelligent, sensitive animals no more deserving of being eaten than your pet dog or cat, according to a recent Associated Press story.

Called the Fish Empathy Project, PETA plans to picket Long John Silvers and other fine seafood eateries to get their message across.

“Fish are so misunderstood because they're so far removed from our daily lives,” said Karin Robertson, 24, the Empathy Project manager and daughter of an Indiana fisheries biologist in the AP article. “They're such interesting, fascinating individuals, yet they're so incredibly abused.”

Misunderstood tuna. Confused bluegill and disturbed trout. I can see a brand new field of science — aquatic psychology.

PETA's latest project was inspired by several recent British scientific studies detailing facets of fish intelligence.

“Most people dismiss fish as dimwitted pea-brains. Yet this is a great fallacy,” wrote University of Edinburgh biologist Culum Brown in the June edition of New Scientist.

Though the idea of treating a carp as an equal to your pet hound is absurd, anyone who has fished for bass knows biologist Brown may be paddling his rowboat with both oars. Bass are not dumb. Anyone who has tossed a lure into submerged tree can attest to that. An overwhelming majority of bass are not only smart enough to avoid the lure, they often managed to entangle the dumber fisherman's line in the tree.

I have to admit I once had what you could call a pet fish. He came into my household as a “gold fish” in a very small glass bowl “won” at a school carnival by my kids. You know — the carnival prize that usually went belly up in a day or two. The one my kids brought home refused to follow the fate of his fellow carnival prizes and survived long enough to gain my sympathy to be introduced into my fish tank of tropical fish.

He grew large enough to earn a name, “Gargantu.” He outlived dozen of his tropical cousins and frequent neglect of his habitat. My children left him behind when they went to college. I admit, I became attached to Gargantu — admired the tough guy. He would occasionally nibble on my finger when he thought it was one of those fish flakes. I did not say he was smart. However, never let anyone pet him. He never did knew who was keeping him alive.

I would like say Gargantu died of old age. He didn't. The family decided he needed company. He was all alone in the tank, and they bought him some new friends at the tropical fish store. Some new friends. Along with company, they also gave him a malady that sent Gargantu belly up and down the porcelain throne.

I know what you are thinking. Had Gargantu reached a friable size, would I had made him a fish stick? Probably, but don't let the folks at PETA know that, they might send the pickets from the local Red Lobster to my house.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com