Fishing believed new source of income amid UN sanctions
By Yi Whan-woo
A number of North Korean fishermen have been rescued recently after drifting in Japanese waters and its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the East Sea. Also, many others have been found dead.
In all cases their boats had apparently ran out of fuel or suffered engine failure.
This suggests they were forced to go out to sea without sufficient equipment to catch fish there, analysts said Tuesday.
They speculated that the impoverished regime may have demanded its fishermen meet certain fishing quotas as part of efforts to fight economic hardship intensified by U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions for its nuclear and missile provocations.
"The fishing authorities are believed to be putting pressure on fishermen to meet a quota to earn money," said Kang Myung-do, a North Korean defector and political science professor at Kyonggi University.
Kang said Pyongyang's efforts to vitalize the fishing industry were part of its economic policy.
"The problem is, most of the fishing boats are obsolete, wooden ones. They are so old that they are damaged when constantly hit by mild waves," he said.
Kang said lack of fuel, coupled with repeated engine failure also contributed to the situation, saying, "The UNSC sanctions are certainly affecting the lives of civilians in the North although they are mainly targeting Pyongyang's military activities."
The analysts claimed that the Kim Jong-un regime's sales of fishing rights to China in its own waters is one of the reasons North Koreans are risking their lives to catch fish in the open seas of the Pacific.
"The North Korean fishermen have no option other than going beyond their territorial waters to meet quotas set by the repressive state," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.
Kang agreed, although he argued that pollution in North Korean waters in the East Sea may also have triggered some fishermen to catch fish in more distant locations.
"I don't think the Kim regime sold fishing rights to China for all its waters. But even so, the eastern coast has been polluted by sewage and waste oil from chemical plants and steelmakers in the region. It obviously makes it difficult for them to catch fish in the shallow waters," he said.
On Monday, the bodies of three men believed to be from North Korea were found on the coast of Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture. The bodies were founded along with the wreckage of a wooden boat.
Also on Monday, the body of a suspected North Korean was found on a beach in Nikaho, Akita Prefecture.
The new findings come after the Japan Coast Guard announced it had found 44 wrecked North Korean boats in Japanese waters from January to Nov. 22.
The boats were mostly old wooden ones. They often carried human remains, suggesting that the crew died after drifting for a long time on the open sea.
In separate news, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported last week that 13 North Korean fishing boats have been found since Nov. 15. The 13 carried a combined 17 dead bodies.
Experts said the North Korean boats were found in Japanese waters recently because there is a wide range of fish to be caught in the region at this time of the year.
"They could have caught fish in either the West or East seas, but the latter turned out to have more and more varied fish," Yang said.
Kang argued that the North Korean fishing boats have preferred the East Sea because the fishing ground in the West Sea is relatively smaller and also they cannot compete with advanced Chinese boats.