Kim Jong-il: The sturgeon general

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Kim Jong-il: The sturgeon general


Now he’s gone mad for the fish that produces the delicacy, the sturgeon.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper for North Korea’s Workers’ Party, featured a large headline on Dec. 21 that read, “Sturgeons to the sea, Choson to the world,” above an article praising the virtues of the fish. Choson is the North’s Korean name for itself.

This was not the first time the newspaper had touted the fish as some kind of national accomplishment. In June 2009, the Rodong Sinmun carried a report saying, “Our satellites fly in the sky and our sturgeons go to the sea,” connecting sturgeon farming with the nation’s long-awaited satellite launch. (North Korea’s attempt at a satellite launch last April failed, with two stages of the rocket and its satellite payload landing in the Pacific Ocean, according to the U.S. and South Korea.)

Kim was also reported to have visited a fish farm in South Hwanghae Province in November with his third son and chosen successor, Kim Jong-un, and ordered sturgeons to be raised in bulk.

A North Korean source said a South Korean businessman who trades with Pyongyang gave Kim the idea of sturgeon farming, and the South Korean government says the program is for the food value of the fish itself, not the prized eggs. But it is true that caviar was included on a list of sanctions imposed on the North by the United Nations Security Council.

“Considering the fact that you need an incredible amount of know-how to make high-quality caviar, it’s difficult to imagine that North Korea is raising the fish for caviar,” said one South Korean government source.

But North Korea’s past attempts at novel food farming have been anything but successful.

In 2000, Kim ordered 200 fish farms to be created to breed Egyptian catfish. The project was a failure and the fish farms are now used as fields for minari, or dropwort in English.

Two years later, Kim built a large-scale farm to raise ostriches, which also flopped. There are rumors that the communist leader recently ordered turtles and giant frogs to be raised.

“This is just a gesture to show that Kim Jong-il is looking after the people,” said Cho Bong-hyun, a North Korea analyst at an economic institute of the Industrial Bank of Korea.

“It’s not going to solve the hunger problem,” he said.


By Lee Young-jong [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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