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Gov’t Subsidized IUU Fishing By Korean Fleet?

The South Korean government, Dongwon Industries,  and other tuna  fisheries companies are under fire for failing to take preemptive steps to prevent the E.U.’s preliminary listing of Korea as a country engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF). South Korea’s fishing industry receives yearly a high amount of government subsidies, of which also tuna fishing companies are profiting, some of them directly or indirectly being associated with IUU fishing.

On Nov. 26, the European Commission handed out formal warnings to Korea for failing to keep up with its international obligation to fight IUUF.
It said that it has identified specific shortcomings in the country, such as a lack of action to address deficiencies in monitoring fishing vessels through tracking devices and control of fisheries companies, and suggested corrective actions to resolve them.
Its preliminary designation of the country as an IUU nation came as a shock to Korea, which prides itself as being a fishing powerhouse with 344 registered vessels in 2012.
Though the listing will not, at this stage, entail any measures affecting trade, if Korea is designated as a full IUU fishing nation, all fish and fish products caught or manufactured by Korean fleets and their owner companies will be banned from sale in the E.U.
From 2010, the E.U. urged the Korean government to actively engage in stopping illegal fishing, after a number of international environmental organizations disclosed fishing illegalities by Korean ships. Rumors that the E.U. could issue a warning to the country were common place.
But the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries claimed that it was talking with the E.U. and Korea would not likely face any penalties.
In July, the government strengthened its punitive measures against illegal fishing, including imposing fines three times the amount earned from sales of the fish, through a revision to the respective law. But the E.U. reportedly did not accept the revision, saying “The revision lacks control over IUUF.”
Park Ji-hyun at Greenpeace said that the revision was nothing more than a makeshift measure.
“Compared to the fishing laws of other countries, such as the U.S. or European countries, the revision affects the punishment. It lacks measures to prevent the trade of illegally caught fishes or preserving fish resources,” she said.
Eight countries have been warned by the E.U. for illegal fishing last year and three of them -- Belize, Cambodia and Guinea -- were designated as full IUUF nations this year.
“If the government fails to show any improvement, it might suffer a similar trade ban that prohibits countries from selling fish in the E.U.,” Park said.
Though the country might be stigmatized as an IUUF nation, the ministry recently suspended the introduction of a compulsory Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), which tracks a fishing vessel’s whereabouts, until July next year. China has already made it compulsory.
The E.U. picked that as one of the reasons why it warned Korea; but the ministry claimed that enforcing the system which will cost millions of won for each vessel could be a financial burden to companies.
According to a fishing industry insider, who asked for anonymity, it may be burdensome for some small companies, but it was not a big deal for large companies such as Dongwon, Korea’s largest canned tuna provider.
“Six large companies, like Dongwon and Sajo Industries, take about 80 percent of the ministry’s subsidies to the fishing industry amounting to 300 billion won a year,” Park said.
The E.U. warning came after a series of IUUF incidents perpetrated by Korean fleets around the world.
In April, Dongwon paid a fine of $2 million to the Liberian government its fishing vessel “Premier” was caught fishing in waters off the African country without a permit.
The company claimed they were deceived by a local agency, Inter-Bulgo, but failed to provide any evidence and the ship was impounded for 60 days.
“The Liberian case garnered attention from international society because Dongwon is a big-name company in the industry,” an insider said.
“It is difficult to deny that the company was partly to blame for Korea’s preliminary designation as an IUUF nation,” he added.