Ferry regulation limits profits for fishermen

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Ferry regulation limits profits for fishermen

For the past few months, fisherman Choi Chul-nam, who works on Daecheong Island, in Ongjin County, Incheon, has had no choice but to sell half his haul of crabs and fish at giveaway prices to visitors to the port.

“I’ll sell a 3-kilogram (6.6-pound) mackerel, a rock fish and a couple of crabs for just 10,000 won ($9.60),” Choi said. “It’s dirt cheap.”

Since the Sewol ferry disaster on April 16, a tragedy that killed more than 300 passengers, a strict freight regulation that limits space on such ships has forced more fishermen to sell their products at lower prices.

Before the tragedy, Choi and the other fishermen on the five West Sea islands, which include Daecheong, Baekryeong, Yeonpyeong Islands, used to box their products in Styrofoam or plastic containers, then pile them in the spaces on ferries designated for cars - as much as they caught.

But once the new regulation took effect following the accident, it became virtually impossible for them to load their entire catch. Now, fishermen must load their cargo into cars, then affix those vehicles to the ship to move them. To comply with the new rule, the men for a time used their colleagues’ personal cars, though it still proved inefficient. In an attempt to help, Ongjin County even rented a one-ton truck and five-ton truck to ease the difficulty, but they still didn’t provide enough space, and the county eventually ran out of funds in August to continue leasing the vehicles.

“I don’t have enough space in my cold storage unit to keep everything I catch,” Choi said. “I can’t help but sell all my products cheap or give away the leftovers to my neighbors.”

Making matters worse, the county’s budget shortage came at a time when local fishermen were just about to resume crab fishing ahead of the season’s close.

“Even though the time around the Chuseok holidays is a good time to make a profit because demand is high, local fishermen’s incomes have dwindled to about half what they were last year because they can’t carry all their products to land to sell,” said Sim Hyun-joo, a fishing village chief on Daecheong Island. “This is such a weird phenomenon. The biggest haul for fish and crab is in the middle of season, but they can’t earn as much money.”

As crabs season resumes this month, leading to an increase in fishery products, the lack of freight space is expected to continue to be an issue for sellers.

“The water temperature around the five West Sea islands has increased by about a degree, producing an environment in which crabs can thrive,” said Lim Yang-jae, a researcher at the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute. “The number of young crabs has increased by more than 10 percent over the year.”

“It is projected that the crab catch this fall will increase by 20 to 60 percent compared to last year.”

Since the water temperature has gone up, so too have fishermen’s hauls of mackerel, rockfish and spotty belly greenling around the five West Sea islands.

“We are trying to transform space for cars into cargo compartments so that more fishery products can be transported onboard,” said Tak Dong-sik, the head of Ognjin County’s traffic administration. “As long as there are no safety hazards, I hope the Korean Register of Shipping will approve the change as soon as possible.”

By CHOI MO-RAN [ypc3c@joongang.co.kr]

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