Five enforcement agents employed by the West Sea Fisheries Supervision Office were attacked and wounded by Chinese fishermen on Monday morning while inspecting their vessel in waters northwest of Hongdo, South Jeolla Province. The fishermen, who were fishing illegally in Korean waters, wielded knives and axes once the agents boarded their trawler, striking one of them in the back of his head and the waist. The agents had to retreat and call maritime police in Mokpo for backup, who arrested the fishermen.
In December last year, coast guard sergeant Lee Cheong-ho was fatally stabbed by a Chinese fisherman during a raid on trawlers. China promised to improve controls of fishermen in order to prevent such incidents, but nothing has changed. Chinese fishermen are now arming themselves with axes, sickles, knives and hooks to deal with inspections.
Yet only 107 out of 210 agents with the West Sea Fisheries Supervision Office have been issued with protective armor. All agents must be equipped with safety gear that can protect their lives.
But the government cannot keep boosting its budget forever to increase the number of patrol boats, equipment and personnel to crack down on illegal fishing. It needs to bolster its negotiating power so that China will at long last have to think about doing something about this menace.
China is the biggest market for Korean exports, accounting for 30 percent of outbound shipments, but Korea takes up only 4 percent of China's exports. Under these circumstances, there is no way China will listen closely to Korean demands. Over the short term, the government needs to consider letting Chinese and Korean fishermen share the profits made from what they catch in the West Sea. But more long-term measures are needed to reduce Korea's export dependence on China by diversifying overseas markets.