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ALEX COHEN, host:

And finally today - and I swear this is no joke - sea kittens. That is the new term being used by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, for the creatures they believe are in dire need of an image makeover: fish. Here is PETA campaign coordinator Ashley Byrne.

Ms. ASHLEY BYRNE (Campaign Coordinator, Save the Sea Kittens, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals): PETA thought that by renaming fish "sea kittens" that compassionate people who would never dream of hurting a dog or a cat might extend that sympathy to fish or sea kittens.

COHEN: Byrne says, so far, the sea kittens campaign is getting a positive response. Reporter Anne Hillman of member station KUCB decided to go to an Alaskan fishing town to see how it's playing out there.

ANNE HILLMAN: Ashley Byrne says that rebranding fish as sea kittens was obvious.

Ms. BYRNE: Fish not only have the same ability to feel pain as a dog or a cat, but they also communicate with one another, they have complex social interactions, they form bonds, they express affection by gently rubbing against one another.

HILLMAN: The campaign boasts a colorful, interactive Web site aimed at children and their parents. On the site, you can read sea kitten bedtime stories or design your own sea kitten pet. Byrne hopes this will build compassion in families.

Ms. BYRNE: Most parents would never dream of spending a weekend torturing kittens for fun with their families, but hooking a sea kitten through the mouth and dragging her out of the water is the same as hooking a kitten through the mouth and dragging her behind your car.

HILLMAN: So far, PETA has only promoted the campaign in North Carolina, but they plan to take it nationwide, even to Alaska. It might be a tough sell in a state where fishing is not only many people's livelihoods, it's just kind of, you know, what you do. So I thought I'd preview the campaign in the small fishing town of Unalaska. First, I checked in with 12-year-old Chastity Haskins.

Ms. CHASTITY HASKINS: I don't see fish as sea kittens. I see them as food.

HILLMAN: Chastity is looking at the campaign site with her friend, 11-year-old Harmony Wayner. So far, they're not so impressed.

(Soundbite of Web site music)

Ms. HASKINS: Oh, my God.

Ms. HARMONY WAYNER: It's just doesn't look right.

HILLMAN: Harmony is a fourth-generation commercial salmon fisherman. She looks at the cartoon fish and reads through the information on the site. It says sea kittens are intelligent. They feel pain.

Ms. WAYNER: They say that they're intelligent, but they're not really. They have tiny, tiny little brains - tiny, very miniature.

HILLMAN: She and Chastity also take issue with the claims that sea kittens are unhealthy to eat.

Ms. WAYNER: And they only talk about, like, farm fish. It's not, like, wild Alaskan, which is very good for you.

Ms. HASKINS: Yeah.

HILLMAN: Most people I talked to agreed with the girls, which isn't that surprising. It is a fishing town.

Ms. MARY POWERS (Fisheries Observer): I don't understand how it makes sense.

HILLMAN: That's fisheries observer Mary Powers. Powers works on fishing boats, collecting data on the catches. She thinks the campaign, which encourages people to petition the Fish and Wildlife Service to stop the hunting of sea kittens, is misguided.

Ms. POWERS: It seems like it's discouraging Americans to buy our product, which I think is - how do you say? - unpatriotic.

HILLMAN: But PETA's Byrne says, even if people lose jobs in the fishing industry through the success of the campaign, they could work in more sea-kitten-friendly environments.

Ms. BYRNE: So, as there is less of a demand for foods like fish, there's more of a demand for other foods, and jobs open up in those industries.

HILLMAN: National Marine Fisheries Service management biologist Brian Dixon doesn't see the change coming anytime soon.

Mr. BRIAN DIXON (Management Biologist, National Marine Fisheries Service): Oh, well, it may raise some money for PETA, but I don't think it will change the way that we manage the fisheries.

HILLMAN: Or change the way he'll plan his meals.

Mr. DIXON: I think I may eat some sea kittens tonight.

HILLMAN: For NPR News, I'm Anne Hillman in Unalaska.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Neither sea kittens nor any other animals were harmed in the production of this show. It's Day to Day, a production of NPR News, with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.

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