Monday, March 16, 2009

Seal Hunt Protests

It's that time of year when activist groups around the world protest Canadian seal hunting (here, here, and here).

Few articles mention the fishermen who argue their livelihood depends upon it: Acadians of the Magdalene Islands.

National Geographic does.

Car license plates in Quebec—which includes the Magdalen Islands, or Îles de la Madeleine—bear the legend, Je me souviens, meaning "I remember." The Madelinots, as the 95 percent of islanders who are French-speaking call themselves, do not easily let go of their 250 years of history and traditions. They remember the dark days following 1755 when, fleeing deportation by the British, the islands' founding families made their way from what is now Nova Scotia to start a new life. Though farming folk, these exiled Acadians were forced to turn to the sea for sustenance. Today the fishing industry makes up 80 percent of the islands' economy. A thousand of the 13,000 islanders fish for a living, and a similar number process the catches of lobster, crab, herring, and mackerel.

Madelinot fishermen also remember the two decades of tribulation that began in the 1960s when antihunt campaigners, spearheaded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and later by Greenpeace, triggered the eventual collapse of the seal trade. Portrayed as murderers and barbarians, fishermen suffered the contempt of the masses as television brought graphic scenes from the ice fields of the North Atlantic into the living rooms of Europe and North America.

Taking part in what had been known as the greatest hunt in the world—an enterprise that in the 19th century had involved more than 13,000 men and 400 sailing ships—was no longer a matter of pride but a mark of shame. Once hailed as "Vikings of the ice," the sealers were now the scum of the earth. The Madelinots' cries of Nous ne sommes pas des bouchers! — We are not butchers! — sounded hollow when accompanied by photographs of upraised clubs and bloodstained ice.

PETA says the seal hunt is "
nothing more than a money-making scheme orchestrated by professional fishers." Well, of course! Use PETA's letter-writing form to let Canada know about the need to protect the unique culture of the Magdalene Islands.

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