SOU responds to fish flap

By Jennifer Nitson
Ashland Daily Tidings

Southern Oregon University officials put graduation preparations on the back burner today to respond to concerns over goldfish dying in an art exhibit.

SOU administrators are addressing the growing local media frenzy surrounding the use of "feeder" fish in an art exhibit at the Schneider Museum on campus.

Animal rights activist Barbara Rosen escalated her protest this week by donning a yellow fish costume and imitating a dying fish in front of the museum and administrative offices at SOU's Churchill Hall. Rosen has spent the last several weeks protesting the art exhibit, holding a sign at various locations of campus reading "Stop the fish torture."

Her dramatization attracted increased media attention to Rosen's cause - with two local television news crews video-taping Rosen's theatrical activism Tuesday.

In a statement issued by the university today, "ongoing modifications" made to increase the goldfish lifespan are outlined, including cleaning the fishbowls on a daily rather than weekly basis, housing the fish in an aerated tank on the weekend when the museum is closed, and increased fish monitoring by artist and SOU adjunct professor Shawn Busse.

"An animal rights protester has incorrectly stated that the purpose of the exhibit is for the fish to die," the university's statement said, adding Busse's "Heaven and Earth, 2003" installment is based on the theologian John Edward's writings about the fallibility of man.

Moreover, SOU officials said "the issue has been sensationalized by comments about 'death chambers' and 'internment camps.' The implication that fish are being intentionally mistreated or killed is inappropriate and incorrect."

In addition to talking to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife representative, SOU biologist Michael Parker was called in to assess the health and care of the fish used in the exhibit.

"It's amazing how much time this has taken up," Parker said.

Parker believes the goldfish are being properly cared for, with appropriate aquariums, clean water, and feeding.

"One of the things that happens when you raise fish in a dense population is they often get fungal infections," Parker said. "There was no mishandling of those fish whatsoever. It's an unfortunate effect of how they're being raised and how they were being handled by the fish dealers."

Kathryn Bazylewicz, director of marketing and public relations for SOU, said this morning no university funds have been spent on the fish welfare assessments.

For Rosen, the measures are not enough.

"The measures they're talking about are better than nothing but they won't pacify me because the fish are still in there," Rosen said. "I want the fish taken out."

According to SOU custodian and fellow fish protester David McAlaster, the goldfish body count continues to increase.

"I saw approximately four bodies this morning, two of which are still alive because the gills are going," McAlaster said today.

"I'm really concerned about the suffering of those fish in those circumstances," he said, adding that some fish are being sucked onto the intake valve in the tank in the back room. "It seems to me to be a very uncomfortable way to die.

Busse said he is surprised at all the fuss over his installation.

"I definitely never expected this much attention," Busse said. "But, you know, if it gets people into the museum, that's OK, I guess. I have to respect people that have convictions and I have to respect that people have beliefs even if I don't agree with them."

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