October 22, 2011
On 21 October 2011, the West Sea Fisheries Supervision Office announced the capture of three Chinese fishing boats for illegal fishing in South Korea’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), 30 kms northwest of Hong Island in the Yellow Sea. The boats have a total of 27 crewmembers.
Under the 2001 South Korea-China fishery agreement, Chinese fishermen are allowed to fish in South Korea’s EEZ with an appropriate license obtained from South Korean authorities. Reflecting the surge in demand and prices over the past five years, illegal fishing remains common and has inevitably also been the source of political disputes between the two countries in the past.
In December 2010, two crewmen of a Chinese fishing boat, the Liaoyingyu 35403, died after their vessel capsized following a collision with a South Korean Coast Guard vessel. South Korean authorities claimed that the Chinese vessel attempted to ram the South Korean vessel after it sought to determine whether the vessel was fishing illegally. The Chinese Government reaction, which called for punishment of the perpetrators and compensation for the victims, heightened fears of Chinese economic retaliation in South Korea and was a source of political tension.
South Korea’s fisheries exports are growing and China is the largest component of this growth. On 21 October 2011, the Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corp (AT) announced that South Korea’s exports of fisheries and marine products in the period January 2011 to September 2011 period were valued at USD1.67 billion, an increase of 31 percent on the previous year. The growth has been attributed to increased shipments to Japan and, in particular, to China. Export growth year-on-year to Japan and China increased by 16.8 percent and 122.5 percent, respectively.
The capture of the three Chinese vessels is unlikely to attract significant attention in either country. However, the capture, in the context of ongoing fisheries disputes in East Asia and Southeast Asia waters, does indicate that illegal fishing will grow as a source of political tension between China and South Korea in the short to medium-term.