[FOUNTAIN]Fishermen swimming upstream

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[FOUNTAIN]Fishermen swimming upstream

Contrary to one's expectation, eating raw fish is a long-established custom in Korea. Pukyung National University's Seafood & Marine Bioresources Development Center said that "Sallimgyeongje or Forest Economy," written by Hong Man-seon, a Joseon Dynasty scholar in the 17th century, depicts a custom of preparing a raw fish dish by slicing off the skin, wiping away the moisture and serving the fish with ginger and stone-leek seasoned with mustard.

The Chinese enjoyed raw fish dishes for more than 2,500 years and the Analects of Confucius describe Confucius enjoying raw fish. There is a poem written in the 11th century during the Song Dynasty about treating guests to raw fish. But there are no further records in China regarding the custom. Many people of that period believed a rumor that eating raw fish was the cause of an epidemic that killed thousands.

In Japan, where sliced raw fish is a typical dish, the earliest records on this food date from the 14th century. Fish trade among Korea, China and Japan has increased recently, greatly affecting the earnings of Korean fishermen.

Korean fishermen suffer from overproduction of flatfish and sea bass whose prices have plummeted. Cheap red croakers imported from China are making their way into Korean households, shaking up the domestic raw fish market, estimated to be 900 billion won ($770 million). Fishermen in some areas have demanded government subsidies, citing the reduction of income. Last year, raw fish consumption shrank due to the outbreak of vibrio sepsis and cholera. Fish farm sales have not improved this year either. Seaweed, another major marine product, is also overproduced. Government efforts to purchase surplus seaweed for price stabilization have reached the limits of effectiveness.

The World Trade Organization has raised questions on worldwide government policy to subsidize marine products. Surplus rice is also a problem. The government has decided to use part of the leftover rice as animal feed. But with North Korea's expression of regret over the recent military skirmish in the Yellow Sea, rumors that the rice will be sent to the North are drawing attention again.

Garlic farmers also are threatened due to the opening of the domestic market to Chinese garlic. The government plans a subsidy of 1.8 trillion won to garlic farmers. Agricultural surpluses are hurting the state budget. Politicians are trying to solve the problem by providing unconditional support to farmers, an expediency increasing the financial burden on the people.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Choi Chul-joo

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