Illegal crab fishing mysteriously stops

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Illegal crab fishing mysteriously stops


Chinese fishing boats illegally operate in the vicinity of Yeonpyeong Island, Ongjin County, Incheon on April 4. The spring season for crabbing began in early April in the waters off of Yeonpyeong. [YONHAP]

Every spring, Chinese fishing boats come to the waters around Yeonpyeong Island, Incheon, to illegally catch blue crab. This year, however, they have vanished.

According to the Ministry of Public Safety and Security on Wednesday, not a single Chinese fishing boat was in sight in the northern part of the Yellow Sea on Tuesday. Normally, naval radar picks up Chinese vessels on a frequent basis.

The waters around Yeonpyeong account for nearly 25 percent of the blue crab catch in the Yellow Sea. Crab fishing is only allowed in two periods of the year - from April to June and September to November - to protect blue crabs in their breeding season.

The West Sea Fisheries Research Institute at the National Institute of Fishing Science anticipates the total catch of blue crab at 1,500 to 2,000 tons this year - almost double last year’s catch. Because of more rainfall, the water’s temperature and salinity were affected, leading to a surge in blue crab fry.

From April 1 to 4, there were anywhere from 170 to 200 Chinese vessels on a daily basis in the waters near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto border with North Korea in the Yellow Sea. Of these, 130 boats operated in the fertile crab grounds nearby Yeonpyeong.

But starting from April 5, the number of Chinese fishing boats tapered off. By April 9, only two ships were spotted near Yeonpyeong.

The falloff may be related in some way to ongoing contention between Korea and China on the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system (Thaad) in Korea and tension over North Korea’s missile launches and a possible nuclear weapons test.

A new Korean security force nicknamed the “Chinese Fishing Boat Angel of Death” may be another factor. Started by the government on April 4, the force is comprised of two 3,000 ton patrol ships, one 1,000 ton ship and 12 high-speed patrol boats with a total of 444 personnel. Many are former special forces officers.

The three patrol ships are armed with 20 millimeter M61 Vulcan autocannons. The patrol boats have one 20 millimeter Vulcan cannon each and machine guns.

So far, five Chinese fishing vessels have been sunk by the Angel of Death team and 37 were shooed away. An official at the Public Safety Ministry said, “I think the special security force giving a show of force has played a part in the reduction of Chinese fishing boats.”

“I think the Chinese fishing boats are conscious of the activities of the special security force along with heightened tension following North Korea’s provocations,” said Park Tae-won, 57, head of the fishing village on Yeonpyeong Island.

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