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(News Focus) Illegal Chinese fishing wreaking havoc with S. Korea's fishery resources

All News 19:33 June 07, 2016

By Kang Yoon-seung

SEOUL/INCHEON, June 7 (Yonhap) -- Illegal Chinese fishing boats operating off the Korean Peninsula are causing serious damage to the Yellow Sea fishery resources and adversely endangering the livelihood of local fishermen, observers said Tuesday.

The concerns come as the unauthorized Chinese fishing boats have been cited for depleting maritime resources in around waters near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) that separates the two Koreas. They have also been cited for intentionally damaging and stealing fishery-related equipment used by South Korean fishermen.

Reflecting the growing frustration among local fishermen who have to deal with such unlawful activities on a regular bases, some have even taken the law into their own hands, with a group of South Korean fishermen capturing two Chinese boats near the western inter-Korean sea border on Sunday and turning the crew and boats over to the Coast Guard.

The fishermen seized the 22-ton and 15-ton boats just south of the NLL, according to coast guard officials. A total of 11 Chinese fishermen were onboard, but they were sleeping when their vessels were towed to the border island of Yeonpyeong by five South Korean fishing boats.

"The local fishermen who captured the Chinese boats should be commended for their actions," a resident of Yeonpyeong said. He pointed out that Chinese boats are dodging the law by sailing between waters controlled by the two Koreas, knowing full well they can escape trouble from South Korea if they sail into North Korean waters.

On Tuesday, the local coast guard also captured two Chinese boats over illegally fishing inside South Korea's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Waters around the NLL have traditionally been considered to be rich in maritime resources, especially as South Korean fishing boats are, for the most part, banned from entering the region due to the military tension with Pyongyang.

Illegal Chinese boats, however, have been making unauthorized entry into the area, catching young fish, an act which is contributing to the devastation of the environment, and potentially hurting the livelihoods of local fishermen.

In addition, while South Korean boats are banned from fishing during night hours, unauthorized Chinese boats are using lamps to operate around the clock, industry watchers said.

Local fishermen said the irony is that Chinese fishermen breaking the law are reaping the benefits, while they can do nothing, other than to urge the government to come up with a feasible plan to root out the unauthorized activities.

Others have said the biggest threat held by the Chinese fishing boats is their nets which even capture young fish, fishing of which is off limits to local fishermen.

The coast guard said that confiscated fishing nets are so fine they sweep the ocean of all marine resources. Such activities have a devastating effect on the local ecosystem, experts said.

"If we take a look at the holds of captured Chinese boats, they have even caught young crabs smaller than 6.4 centimeters. Some fish are even smaller than fingers," an official from Incheon Coast Guard said, adding that capturing such goods are forbidden under local rules.

"We need to wait until younglings become adults and reproduce. But Chinese boats are destroying such a cycle," he added.

Observers estimate around 200 to 300 illegal Chinese fishing boats operates near the South Korean water around the NLL every day.

Moreover, locals complain that Chinese boats often steal fishing equipment installed by South Korean fishermen. In June 2014, fish traps and related gear worth 60 million won (US$51,630) were stolen. In 2012, traps worth 160 million won were stolen.

Amid the rising demand for tougher action made by the government, the local coast guard claims that it is hard to tackle the unauthorized boats as they are usually heavily armed with knife and hammers and frequently resist arrest.

Chinese fishermen are asked to pay up to 20 million won to get their impounded boats back, adding such conditions also make them resist arrest.

Authorities point out that Chinese boat are adept at playing a cat-and-mouse game where they sail into North Korean waters if they think they will get caught, knowing full well that South Korean Coast Guard boats won't follow.

The two Korean fought several classes along the NLL so both side usually do not violated the demarcation line.

Reflecting difficult conditions, South Koreans operating in the region claim they are the ones suffering the most and called on the government to do more to clamp down on illegal fishing and even to talk to Beijing about the unfolding situation that is causing ill feeling towards China.

"South Korea's coastal habitat for blue crabs are being destroyed by Chinese boats sweeping our resources," Park Tae-won, an official from Yeonpyeong, said. He said such activities must be stopped if future generations are to be able to fish in the region.

colin@yna.co.kr
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