An ice-fishing festival in Hwacheon has reignited controversy over animal abuse for its cruel killing of mountain trout, with the environment minister denouncing it as a “human-focused” event at the cost of animals’ lives.
On Monday, bestselling novelist Lee Oi-soo, who lives in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, and is an honorary ambassador for the festival, criticized the comment made last week by Environment Minister Cho Myung-rae.
“Are chickens being raised in a free and happy environment? What about pigs, cows, horses and sheep?” he said on his Facebook account. “I would like to ask animal rights groups and the environment minister to teach me how to grill gravel and steam sand (for eating.)”
Rep. Kim Jin-tae of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party demanded an apology, saying the minister’s remark disregarded residents’ livelihood.
The criticism came after Cho said he personally viewed the barehanded fishing festival as a feast for human-centric pleasure and “not desirable” during a meeting with reporters Thursday.
At the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, which runs from Jan. 27 to Sunday this year, visitors can catch sancheoneo with their bare hands or with fishing rods through holes made on the surface of a frozen river.
In the county with a population of some 27,000 residents, the festival is one of the main sources of income for villagers in Hwacheon, a remote mountain town, about 120 kilometers northeast of Seoul and close to the inter-Korean border.
Launched in 2003, the annual festival has become one of the country’s popular winter events. Last year, it drew an estimated 1.8 million visitors, including 146,000 foreign tourists, during its 23-day run, according to the county. Some 190 tons of sancheoneo were released into the river last year.
However, animal rights groups have accused the festival of massacring mountain trout.
An association of 11 local animal rights organizations on Jan. 9 filed a petition against Choi Moon-soon, chief of Hwacheon county, accusing him of violating animal rights.
The association pointed out the cruel killing and treatment of the fish, arguing that the event’s organizers do not feed the fish for days so that the trout will be more eager to take festivalgoers’ bait, enabling participants to catch the fish more easily.
The organizers denied the accusation.