Korean seafood exports could suffer following the US decision to to put South Korea on a preliminary list of countries engaged in IUU fishing. Image: EJF

The USA has put South Korea on a preliminary list of countries engaged in illegal fishing. This is the third time this decade that Korea has been listed by a major economy as being associated with IUU fishing. It follows a similar listings by the USA and the European Union in 2013.

Without immediate reforms, the listing could result in trade sanctions on Korean seafood exports. It is also a serious blow to the reputation of a country that previously made efforts to reform its distant water fleet in response to prior international listings.

A key reason for this most recent listing is IUU fishing activities carried out by two Korean distant water fishing vessels in 2017 that violated CCAMLR conservation measures.

Korean and international NGOs expressed strong concern over the case and its subsequent mishandling by government authorities. Despite commitments made to CCAMLR, Korea’s legal framework has not enabled authorities to sanction vessels engaging in IUU fishing, allowing the vessel owners to sell catches, caught illegally in Antarctic waters, on the global seafood market.

Reforms designed to address the failings in the CCAMLR case are currently before Korean parliament but have not yet been approved. Urgent changes to the country’s sanctioning scheme are needed for authorities to quickly tackle IUU fishing cases.

NGOs have also called for reforms to build greater transparency in Korean fisheries, including the publication of important information on vessel identity and IUU fishing offences to publicly accessible databases.

Transparency will enable greater public scrutiny and reduce the likelihood of similar cases in the future.
This comes less than a year after the government signed a joint statement with the European Union pledging to fight IUU fishing globally.

The group of seven NGOs, which includes including Korea’s Citizen’s Institute for Environmental Studies, and the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements, as well as the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, the Environmental Justice Foundation, have made a series of recommendations to the Korean government – telling lawmakers to amend legislation to include stronger, more rapid sanctions for IUU fishing cases, to commit to a rapid increase in transparency and traceability of the fishing sector, including the publication of vessel license lists and vessel sanctions, to establish a regulatory co-operation system with industry, including representatives of the civil society organisations, to efficiently and effectively deter IUU fishing, and to undertake an urgent review of the handling of the CCAMLR IUU fishing cases and make necessary administrative changes in response.