SWITZERLAND: Is fishing as cruel as bullfighting? Antoine Goetschel thinks so. The Swiss lawyer carries the distinction of being the first man in the world to stand up in court on behalf of a dead (and eaten) 10kg pike.

The crucial issue, according to the sole animal advocate in Europe, was the 10-minute battle between angler and giant fish before the pike was finally hauled out of Lake Zurich and landed on the bank.

Goetschel insisted that the fisherman should have cut the line after the first minute of the battle to save the pike from unnecessary suffering.

"Angling is as barbaric as bullfighting," he told a Zurich court as a public gallery of curious and bemused fishermen listened on.

Goetschel was ridiculed in the Swiss media before last month's trial and subsequently dismissed as a batty and interfering animal fundamentalist.

He lost the case. For the fish, the result was immaterial: the angler and his friends had already dined on the prized catch in a presumably celebratory meal at a local pub.

"All the same, I had those anglers worried," Goetschel said this week.

"For the first time, they were made aware of the possibility that they could face legal consequences for what they were doing."

Goetschel is one of a kind in Switzerland. The passionate animal-rights advocate fulfils the role of a state-funded public prosecutor for abused pets and farm animals in his home canton of Zurich. He represents an average of 150 to 200 abused animals a year.

But if a national referendum goes his way this weekend, there will soon be scores of lawyers like him all over Switzerland, fighting in courts for the rights of animals.

In contrast to the negative publicity the country has received over attitudes to foreigners and Muslims, the alpine nation may soon win renown as the most animal-friendly country on Earth.

Opinion polls have indicated that 70 per cent of the Swiss population support the scheme. It is already illegal to keep lone goldfish, guinea pigs, canaries and budgies in Switzerland because they could become lonely.

Dog owners have to take training courses and from 2013 it will be against the law to keep horses tied up in their stalls.

The referendum was set in motion by the group Swiss Animal Protection, which gathered 100,000 signatures to force the nationwide vote.

- INDEPENDENT