Nothing says Seattle like sipping a grande latte from the original Starbucks while watching dead halibut and salmon fly past your face.

So the vets coming to town next month for the annual meeting of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) figured why not have a team-building demonstration featuring the famous flinging fishmongers from the Pike Place Fish Market?

Not so fast, said the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) when it caught wind of the plan. In a protest letter to the vets, the group trashed the “event in which animals are treated so disrespectfully and are handled as if they were toys."

PETA offered to provide rubber stuntfish instead.

“Oh, please,” responded a Seattle Times editorial last Thursday. “They are dead. The next best thing that can happen to a salmon is to be topped with lemon and butter, barbecued and then eaten.”

PETA’s complaint is part of a broader attack on the killing and eating of fish because fishing hurts them—literally. Fish may feel pain, according to a study published this April in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.

Two Purdue University researchers attached mini heaters to goldfish—half of which were injected with morphine, the other half with saline. A couple of hours after the heat was removed, those given the morphine swam around normally, while those not benefiting from the pain medicine appeared disturbed and defensive.

The difference in behavior "strongly suggests there is something going on with their memory and experience of that event that is not a reflex,” Joseph Garner, a co-author on the paper, told The Daily Telegraph.

Regardless of what they may have felt while alive, Pike Place’s flying fish are dead. One of the market’s managers, Jeremy Ridgeway, defended their handling of a creature he and his colleagues rely on and respect: "The thing is, we're not laughing and making fun of them,” he told the Los Angeles Times. Ridgeway often launches the ice-to-counter flyovers himself. “It's just Point A to Point B. That's why we do it."

The AVMA is unbowed and will proceed with the demonstration using dead fish, telling members in a letter that, unlike PETA, “the AVMA supports the responsible use of animals for human purposes.”

Photo of Pike Place fishmonger and flying fish courtesy of Phil Romans via Flickr.