Korea is on the verge of being put on the red list by the EU as a main culprit of illegal fishing, which could severely tarnish the country's international image. A delegation from the Directorate General for Maritime and Fisheries of the European Commission is in Korea to evaluate what the country is doing to control Korean-flagged trawlers operating on the high seas.
Other nations under EU review are such underdeveloped countries as Ghana, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Togo. This would be a big embarrassment for Korea, which has one of the world’s top five fishing industries. Lax efforts by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries to clamp down on illegal fishing by Korean ships overseas are largely to blame.
Korea began deep-sea fishing in 1966 and operated with relative freedom in oceans around the world until the 1980s. But that changed in the late 1990s, when the UN Food and Agriculture Organization set up regulations on fishing methods to address concerns about overfishing and rapidly depleting maritime resources.
The ministry turned a blind eye to these changes. "We've received many letters from international organizations since the late 1990s urging us to do more to stop illegal fishing, but we largely ignored them in order to protect our industry," a ministry official admits.
In 2008, the FAO enforced fishing regulations more stringently and made them mandatory. This led to sustainable fishing methods becoming global standards, but the ministry had done little to comply until it received a formal warning from the EU last year.
Korean trawlers have been anything but model cases off the western coast of Africa. According to the ministry, Korean ships routinely invaded foreign territorial waters, and many are nabbed fishing illegally under the flags of African countries.
There are only around 40 Korean trawlers off the west coast of Africa, so it would not have taken a monumental effort by the ministry to crack down on them. But all the ministry did was to threaten them with fines of up to W200 million.
Korea may rank among the top countries in the world when it comes to IT technology, but it was only this year that the ministry acquired the capability to monitor the whereabouts of Korean fishing vessels with satellite systems. The public has seen how ineffective the ministry was in dealing with the April 16 ferry disaster and how lax its safety rules have been. It has no more excuses left.
By Shon Jin-seok from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk