Illegal fishing at NLL is barely cracked down on

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Illegal fishing at NLL is barely cracked down on

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A Korea Coast Guard patrol drives Chinese fishing boats out of South Korean waters 200 meters (656 feet) north of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea on May 2. Chinese crab-fishing ships have been crossing the Northern Limit Line. By Kim Kyung-bin

After North Korea rented out some fishing areas along the disputed border in the Yellow Sea to Chinese fishermen, Chinese vessels are sweeping up crabs north of Yeonpyeong Island, sometimes trespassing in South Korean waters.

But the Korean Coast Guard, which is in charge of cracking down on such illegal fishing, is short of forces because many of its personnel are working at the Sewol ferry accident scene in Jindo, South Jeolla.

When a reporter from the JoongAng Ilbo watched the border area through a telescope on Friday from the Manghyang Observatory on Yeonpyeong Island, more than 100 fishing vessels were observed working near Seokdo Island in North Korean waters, only three kilometers (1.8 miles) north.

“They stay north of the Northern Limit Line most of the time,” said Kim Seong-sik, a 53-year-old local fisherman, referring to the de facto border in the Yellow Sea.

“But sometimes they come into South Korean waters. There were only a few dozens fishing boats last year, but more than 100 vessels showed up in groups this year.”

Two other fishing boats with Chinese flags were also plying South Korean waters only 500 meters north of Yeonpyeong Island, but there were no Coast Guard patrols to shoo them away.

According to island residents, the number of Chinese fishing ships rapidly increased since the ferry disaster on April 16.

But seven out of 12 of the Coast Guard’s vessels that are 1,000 tons or larger, which can carry rubber boats and special forces to combat illegal fishing boats from North Korea or China, are currently working off Jindo on search and rescue operations near the sunken ferry.

The Incheon Coast Guard also has sent 29 of its 36 special forces personnel to the ferry scene.

Although the number of Chinese fishing boats has gone up exponentially, the Coast Guard has managed to catch only 10 of them around the NLL since the ferry accident. In the same period last year, the authorities busted 41.

“When the Coast Guard patrol vessels show up, Chinese fishermen don’t run away far,” said Lee Jin-gu, 55, who heads an association for crab fishermen on Yeonpyeong Island.

“Instead, they wait in North Korean waters until the patrol disappears and then come back deep into our sea.”

The area Pyongyang rented out to Chinese fishermen around the NLL included some South Korean waters north of Yeonpyeong Island.

Even with the Chinese vessels’ illegal fishing south of the NLL, it has been a bumper year for the South’s fishermen, who caught 237 tons of crabs from April to Tuesday, up 78 percent from last year’s 133 tons, according to the local government.

But the catch might get worse next year.

To avoid any conflict with North Korea, local fishermen have been prohibited from working in South Korean seas too near the NLL.

“Because we did not catch crabs there, a spawning area of crabs was created over the years and we can find a lot of crabs in the nearby seas,” said Kim Jae-hyeon, a 76-year-old fisherman.

“If Chinese fishing boats keep sweeping crabs up in that region, we might not be able to catch more crabs nearby.”

BY JEON ICK-JIN, CHOI MO-RAN [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]



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