Chinese presence in North Korean waters is down, UN panel suggests

Fewer Chinese fishing vessels are entering North Korean territorial waters, a reversal from years of increases.

Fewer Chinese fishing vessels are entering North Korean territorial waters, a reversal from years of increases.

In July 2020, a study using data provided by Global Fishing Watch found at least 700 vessels of Chinese origin had fished illegally in North Korean waters in 2018, and that more than 900 had done so in 2017.

But an unpublished draft of the United Nations’ Panel of Experts report on North Korea-related sanctions violations in 2021 identified just 428 foreign vessels in North Korean waters between April and June 2021, down from more than 1,500 in previous years covering the same period. 

Compiled annually for the U.N. Security Council, the report noted a significant decrease in foreign fishing vessels entering the waters of North Korea, adjacent to China’s exclusive economic zone in the northern Chinese seafood processing hub and port of Dalian.

Despite international sanctions, North Korea has in recent years sold fishing rights to Chinese companies, though occassionally running into legal trouble in China, while at the same time condoning its own trawlers fishing in Russian waters illegally.

North Korea is prohibited from supplying, selling, or transferring seafood or fishing rights to other countries, according to the U.N.’s official outline of sanctions against North Korea, which were put in place to prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons.

“All member states are prohibited from procuring such items from [North Korea] by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, whether or not originating in the territory of [North Korea,” according to Resolution 2371, passed by the U.N. Security Council in 2017.

The report does not clarify whether the decrease is a result of increased regulatory enforcement by China or due to a depletion of fishery stocks. All of China's distant-water vessels require a license from the country's Agriculture Ministry to be able to operate internationally, though in practice some have flouted this requirement.

China is a key trading partner of North Korea and, despite sanctions, seafood sourced from North Korea appears to be making it into China. Government in the province of Jilin, China, which adjoins North Korea, spent CNY 240 million (USD 38.4 million, EUR 31.2 million) constructing a new seafood wholesale market in the border city of Tonghua. The market opened in 2021. And the city of Hunchun, on the North Korean border, hosts a major seafood processing industry that has historically hired North Korean laborers.

Photo courtesy of Oleg Znamenskiy/Shutterstock


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