Unity needed on illegal fishingFour government workers were wounded on Monday by Chinese fishermen who resorted to extreme violence after being apprehended by the Coast Guard while illegally fishing in Korean waters in the Yellow Sea. Subject to a crackdown on illegal fishing, the fishermen used axes and knives to try and fight their way free. This is shocking as it took place only four months after the death of Sergeant Lee Chung-ho of the Incheon Coast Guard in a similar attack last December.
Even though Chinese trawlers’ illegal fishing and indiscriminate violence must be stopped at any cost, a more fundamental cause of the mishap is a dereliction of duty among our lawmakers and government. The ruling Saenuri Party proposed last year an amendment to the law that punishes illegal fishing by foreign vessels in Korea’s exclusive economic zone to effectively protect maritime sovereignty.
But the amendment is still sitting in the Legislation and Judiciary Committee due to a gridlock at the National Assembly. The revision, if enacted, would be more effective in curbing foreign vessels’ illegal fishing in our waters as it doubled the fines that can be applied. The bill, however, is doomed to be repealed if it fails to pass a plenary session by May 29, the official closing date of the 18th National Assembly. Lawmakers should pass the amendment before the deadline to put an end to the illegal fishing.
The government came up with various measures to stamp out this problem, including ways of increasing the number of patrol ships and manpower as well as improving equipment for effective suppression. But the Korean Coast Guard still uses primitive tools such as three-tiered clubs and tear gas guns, and no extra manpower was added.
Despite their collaboration with the Coast Guard, 210 agents and 15 patrol boats working under the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are utterly insufficient to cover a vast area of 195,000 square meters (233,218 square yards) between Baekryeong Island to the north and Mara Island to the south. As such, Chinese fishermen make fun of the government’s authority and run amok in Korean waters. Local authorities must establish an effective system to control illegal Chinese fishing. The government received an apology from Chinese leader Hu Jintao in January for the tragic death of Sergeant Lee and a promise that Chinese vessels would no longer breach Korean waters. But the latest incident makes us suspicious of its effectiveness.