05/27/2021, 15.35
KOREA – CHINA
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South Korea accuses China of letting its boats fish illegally in its waters

Hundreds of illegal Chinese fishing boats have entered the waters near the Northern Limit Line, the maritime border between South Korea and North Korea in the Yellow Sea. This year alone, South Korea’s special coastguard has caught seven Chinese boats and forced another 360 to leave the fishing grounds near the Northern Limit Line.

 

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – South Korea has joined countries like Vietnam and the Philippines to protest the invasion of its fishing grounds by Chinese fishing boats. For South Korea, the issue has also restarted a dispute with North Korea.

Hundreds of illegal Chinese fishing boats (pictured) enter the waters near the Northern Limit Line, the maritime border between South and North Korea in the Yellow Sea.

South Korean authorities and fishermen say the boats enter under the cover of darkness and “sweep up everything” in their path,  leaving a trail of environmental destruction behind them.

On average, 180 Chinese boats have caught crabs north of Yeonpyeong Island, one of South Korea's five northernmost islands, every day over the last month.

“This is about three times as many as last year,” said Shin Joong-geun, leader of a fishermen’s association on Yeonpyeong Island. “From this island, you can easily see fleets of Chinese fishing boats operating near the Northern Limit Line.”

South Korea's Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Moon Seong-hyeok said that illegal fishing must be “completely eradicated” and warned that from next year the country would employ drones and artificial intelligence to enhance its maritime surveillance systems.

A South Korean fisheries ministry official said the issue of Chinese boats will be raised next month when the leaders of the two countries hold their annual meeting to discuss ways to crack down on illegal fishing.

“Chinese authorities say that they are making the utmost efforts to stop illegal fishing by Chinese vessels in our sea. In reality, it is quite difficult for us to deal with Chinese fishing boats operating near the Northern Limit Line, so we always urge Chinese authorities to double their efforts to stop this headache,” the fisheries ministry official said.

“Chinese boats usually take advantage of darkness at night to come down south of the Northern Limit Line and engage in illegal fishing,” said Sergeant Song Joo-hyun of the special coastguard force, which South Korea set up in 2017 specifically to stop illegal Chinese fishing boats.

This year alone, the special coastguard caught seven Chinese fishing boats and forced another 360 to leave the fishing grounds near the Northern Limit Line.

This is a risky job. In 2011, a coastguard member was stabbed to death while taking into custody a fisherman on a Chinese ship.

“In the past,” said Sergeant Song, “they wielded knives, axes and other weapons to ward us off, but these days, they use a different tack. They lock themselves in the cab and engine room and race towards the north.”

South Koreans are not allowed to enter within 3.7 km of the Northern Limit Line. In practice, this means that a coastguard team has only a few minutes to catch an illegal Chinese boat or risk ending up in North Korean waters.

Operating at night also helps Chinese boats since South Korean fishermen are prohibited from fishing near the Northern Limit Line after dark.

The Chinese sweep up “everything, ranging from fish living near the surface to shell fishes on the seabed,” said a local South Korean official. “They just don’t care about the damage to sea life,” he added.

In one case, footage shows a beach near the border littered with rubbish including pieces of Styrofoam and empty plastic bottles with Chinese labels, which Korean villagers said had been dumped by illegal Chinese fishing boats.

The year after South Korea launched its special coastguard – made up of 400 maritime policemen and 12 vessels, including three high-speed armoured boats – illegal fishing in the Yellow Sea reportedly fell 60 per cent. However, since then observers in South Korea say the problem has gotten worse.

Although Beijing denies any illegal activity, the United Nations Security Council said in a report it suspected North Korea was selling hundreds of fishing permits a year to fleets from China to fish in the waters in violation of international sanctions.

In 2018 the two Koreas agreed to resolve the issue by turning the fishing grounds near the Northern Limit Line into a joint fishing area, but no progress has since been made due to ongoing tensions between the two.

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