EU team probes illegal fishing by Korean boats

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EU team probes illegal fishing by Korean boats

The European Union is mulling a final decision over whether to designate Korea as an illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing country and is doing an on-site investigation here.

A delegation from the Directorate General for Maritime and Fisheries of the European Commission arrived here on Monday for a three-day visit to evaluate whether Korea is a non-cooperating country in its fight against illegal fishing.

Should the EU rule that Seoul has not done enough to crack down on illegal fishing by Korean-flagged ships in places like Africa, it could lead to serious sanctions banning Korea from trading seafood with EU member states.

Last November, the European Commission gave Korea a formal warning, a so-called yellow card, for failing to keep up with international obligations to fight illegal fishing, alongside countries such as Ghana and Curacao in the former Netherlands Antilles.

A closed-door, two-day meeting between European and Korean maritime and fisheries officials convened at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in central Seoul yesterday to discuss the Korean government’s measures to combat IUU fishing following the EU’s recommendations.

The European delegation was led by Brussels-based Cesar Alfonso Deben, director general of the EU’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Moon Hae-nam, deputy minister for marine policy in the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, led the Korean delegation.

On Monday, the EU delegation also visited the National Fisheries Products Quality Management Service in Busan. The on-site evaluation this week will help the European officials make a final decision on whether to deem Korea an illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing country after an assessment of the country’s control system over Korean-flagged fishing boats.

Should Korea be given a “red-card” and designated an IUU fishing country, its marine products will be banned from sale or distribution in EU member states, and Korean fishing vessels may be banned from entering their ports.

Korea exported some $100 million dollars in marine products to the EU last year.

“This EU inspection is an opportunity for us to further upgrade our deep-sea fishing control system,” Moon said. “Through the evaluation, we will try our best to escape the designation as a yellow card country and become a responsible fishing nation .?.?. Being designated an IUU fishing country is not only an issue for the maritime industry but an issue for Korea’s national status.”

In March, the EU Fisheries Council decided to place trade restrictions on Belize, Cambodia and Guinea for failing to cooperate in fighting IUU fishing, meaning EU member states are required to ban the import of fish from these countries and ensure that EU fishing vessels do not operate in the waters of these nations.

For years, Korean vessels have been accused of fishing illegally in distant waters such as in West Africa.

The European Commission has been cracking down on IUU fishing, which it says depletes fish stocks, destroys marine habitats, distorts competition and puts honest fishermen at an unfair disadvantage.

Korean officials have been in cooperation with the EU to eliminate IUU fishing through various forms of bilateral consultations and the amending of its distant fisheries law.

Under the revised Distant Water Fisheries Development Act, which went into effect on Jan. 31, all Korean vessels engaged in overseas fishing must be equipped with a tracking device to monitor the vessel in foreign waters to prevent illegal activities.

The maximum fine for illegal fishing was raised to 200 million won ($196,598) from 30 million won under the revised law.

In March, the first Fisheries Monitoring Center opened in Busan to enable real-time monitoring of all Korean vessels engaged in deep-sea fishing, all part of the country’s efforts to curb IUU fishing, according to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

Oceans and Fisheries Vice Minister Son Jae-hak visited Brussels early last month and met with high-ranking EU officials to ask for cooperation on the fishery issue and explain Korea’s efforts to curb illegal fishing.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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