updated 7/31/2006 2:40:14 PM ET 2006-07-31T18:40:14

For more than 30 years, crowds have flocked to the small English fishing village of Lyme Regis to watch an annual tradition — two teams of fishermen standing on wooden platforms as human bowling pins, hurling a dead giant eel at each other.

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But the ritual was abruptly abandoned after an animal rights activist threatened to draw negative publicity to the latest tournament, organizers said Saturday.

The practice, known as conger cuddling, is the annual highlight in the small coastal town about 155 miles southwest of London. The object of the game is to knock the opposing team off the platform by swinging a 25-pound eel at them.

Crowds have flocked to Lyme Regis since 1974 to watch rival teams of nine men swing the giant conger eel — suspended in the harbor by a rope — and local residents said they are dismayed at the demise of their historic event.

Andrew Kaye, a resident and spokesman for the Lyme Regis lifeboat crews who raise money through the tournament, said an anonymous e-mailer had called the practice disrespectful to the dead eel.

The lone activist threatened to film the contest to attract adverse media attention, Kaye said.

"We decided that it really wasn't worth upsetting anybody by going ahead with using a dead conger," Kaye said. "But it's a dead conger, for Pete's sake. I shouldn't think the conger could care one way or another."

He said fishermen often accidentally catch the creatures in their nets, deep-freeze them and defrost them in preparation for the tournament.

Ron Bailey, a fishing boat skipper, said the tournament is meant as a wet, carnival-like event which usually raises about $5,600 for Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat crews.

About 300 people attended an alternative event on Friday night. But the boat dock fender that participants used paled in comparison to being struck by a dead eel, Bailey said.

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