North Korean vessels expand illegal squid fishing

A big increase in the number of wooden boats drifting ashore in Japan is one sign of the heavy increase in illegal squid fishing being performed by North Korea. 

This year, there were 169 cases of North Korean boats drifting ashore through the end of November – 1.6 times that of last year and the most since 2013. Stormy weather may be responsible for running many boats aground, but another reason is the sheer increase in the number of vessels.

The Nippon Keizai Shimbun reported that the incursions are occurring further north than where Japan has enhanced its monitoring, and the number of larger steel vessels from North Korea has increased. Last year, about 90 percent were wooden, but this year about one-third are larger steel ships. 

At the Yamato Rise – a good squid fishing ground off northwestern Aomori Prefecture – a Japanese vessel reported about 1,000 fishing boats present, most of which were assumed to be from North Korea.

The Japan Coast Guard and the Fisheries Agency dispatched patrol boats to the area before the fishing season in late May this year, because of the large incursion of fishing boats. More than 1,600 warnings have been issued so far this year.

According to the fisheries agency, North Korean fishing vessels expanded operations from the Yamato Rise to the north in late July. A vessel was sighted in Japan's EEZ west of the Tsugaru Strait, between Honshu and Hokkaido islands, and the agency has responded by positioning fishery control boats there.

The increase in vessels fishing squid illegally inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Sea of Japan is hurting Japan’s catch. Besides taking a large share of the stock, they impede the operation of Japanese vessels in the same areas. There have been television news reports of North Korean vessels fishing dangerously close to Japanese vessels. As some small North Korean vessels lack the strong lights used to attract squid at night, the try to take advantage of the lights of the Japanese vessels.

Squid was North Korea’s third-largest export in 2016, but economic sanctions make it likely that North Korea is now using the squid to feed its population, rather than to sell for foreign currency. 

Photo courtesy of Japan Coast Guard


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