Fishing for real solutionsA member of the Incheon Coast Guard was stabbed to death by the captain of a Chinese fishing boat operating illegally in Korea’s exclusive economic zone in the Yellow Sea. The number of casualties and damages we have sustained while trying to prevent illegal fishing in our waters has steeply increased year after year.
With the recent incident, we have reached a turning point in our efforts to crackdown on illegal fishing by the Chinese, as Chinese fishermen now attempt to confront Coast Guard ships by joining forces with other Chinese fishing boats when they are caught. The violence they inflict has escalated as well, with the fishermen attacking their opponents while armed with bamboo sticks, axes and iron pipes - which is identical to what pirates do, not something fishermen do. The number of Chinese vessels captured by our Coast Guard - a total of 294 from January through October this year - testifies to the severity of the situation, and it does not show any signs of decreasing.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade summoned the Chinese ambassador to South Korea, Zhang Xinsen, to make a strong complaint. In return, Zhang reportedly said, “We are doing the best on our part.”
In fact, our government has been levying heavy fines on Chinese fishing boats after seizure. But because the capture itself deprives the fishermen of their livelihood, it has only caused them to be more violent. We need to come up with real solutions to this problem.
In the past, our fishing boats were often captured in Japanese territory by the Japanese Coast Guard when our fishermen dared to advance there to catch fish that had become depleted because of overfishing. As a result, our government took measures to turn the focus of the coastal fishing industry from fishing to sea farming. At the same time, the government decreased the number of fishing boats by providing subsidies to ship owners. Thanks to these efforts, our fishermen didn’t have to catch fish in other countries’ waters, which eventually stopped our illegal fishing activities in Japan’s territorial waters.
We urge our government to introduce a similar plan to its Chinese counterpart so that it can learn from it. It may take time before we see substantial results. But there is no better way than that to effectively prevent an ever-growing armada of runaway fishing boats from China from entering our waters again. Without a long-term plan to deal with the shameless practice, the problem could emerge as one of the most thorny disputes between two countries.