The North Korean fishing boat which sank after colliding with a Japanese patrol vessel. Photographed on October 7, 2019 by the Japanese Fisheries Agency

◆ Illegal fishing in Russian waters draws gunfire

On October 7, a North Korean fishing boat collided with a Japanese patrol vessel, requiring the rescue of more than 60 North Korean fishermen. The incident concluded with the safe delivery of the rescued men to another North Korean vessel.

In the East Sea, North Korean fishermen catch squid during 2 seasons: the early summer period and the autumn- from September to November. The seasons ends when weather conditions in the East Sea deteriorate, with North Korean vessels having no choice but to return to harbor. These days, with the end of the season fast approaching, it is speculated that North Korean fishermen are navigating to Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as the waters are a rich fishing ground for catching squid in a hurry.

North Korean fishing boats have also been observed in Russian waters, fishing illegally for squid. Since mid-September, Russian authorities have detained several North Korean vessels caught operating in Russian territory, arresting hundreds of North Korean fishermen in the process. According to the AFP, on October 2, a Russian patrol even shot at a North Korean vessel, injuring 5 North Koreans on board.

Squid catching is a lucrative business, with most of a boat’s catch exported to China. Due to economic sanctions, however, the country has not been able to export seafood since 2017. With fishermen unable to sell their catches, the squid industry took a major hit, leading to record low catches in late 2018 and early 2019.

In mid-June, however, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited North Korea and had a change of heart. Marking a shift in policy, the crackdown on smuggling at the North Korean-Chinese border was loosened.

Japan’s rich fishing ground in the EEZ lies roughly 400 kilometers from North Korea’s eastern shoreline. Therefore, in order to recoup the losses from the cost of fuel, the North Korean fishermen must be able to export their catches to a foreign market. With North Korean fishing boats making the lengthy journey to illegally fish in the EEZ’s of Japan and Russia, it is clear that squid is once again being smuggled into China.
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