South Korea’s Fisheries Laws Improve

Credit: Environmental Justice Foundation
Credit: Environmental Justice Foundation

Published Dec 21, 2019 6:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

South Korea’s revision of its Distant Water Fisheries Development Act is crucial progress in tackling illegal fishing, as it allows deterrent sanctions to be applied quickly and efficiently, say a group of international and South Korean NGOs. 

However, they also raise concerns about the new head of a key agency that certifies seafood legality. The official was in post when serious errors were made in a recent case where South Korea failed to sanction vessels found fishing illegally, instead allowing the owner to sell the catch on the global market.
Last month, the U.S. placed South Korea on a preliminary list of countries engaged in illegal fishing. A key reason for the listing was illegal fishing by two Korean distant water fishing vessels in 2017 that violated conservation measures of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the international body established to conserve Antarctic marine life.
The South Korean government reacted quickly by addressing flaws in the Distant Water Fisheries Development Act that had made it difficult to sanction illegal vessels. The government is now able to take action quickly and effectively when they find a vessel has fished illegally.
The Environmental Justice Foundation, the Citizens’ Institute for Environmental Studies and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement praised the amendment. However, they also called for the government to ensure greater transparency in fisheries governance. The publication of key information on vessels, such as license lists, would be a first step, along with full disclosure of any sanctions issued.
Strong leadership of the agency responsible for certifying the legality of seafood – the National Fishery Products Quality Management Service – is also needed, say the NGOs. But they have raised serious concerns about the appointment of the former Director General of Overseas Fisheries, to run the NFQS, as he was the official responsible during the CCAMLR case.

South Korea has a distant water fishing fleet of 221 licensed vessels with an annual export of approximately 200,000 tons. It signed a joint statement with the E.U. to fight against IUU fishing in October 2018. 

In 2018-2019, South Korea has the largest number of vessels (nine vessels) allowed to fish in CCAMLR convention areas, compared to any other country. The nation is currently chairing the Standing Committee on Implementation and Compliance in CCAMLR.