China Fishing Illegally in North Korean Waters According to New Investigation

Chinese Vessels Illegally Fishing In North Korean Waters    Image: Global Fishing Watch and NBC News

China has severely depleted the fish stocks within its own waters, and increasingly the government is subsidizing the country’s “distant water fishing fleet” to go wherever it can to find food for its growing population.  But China is becoming more aggressive and even militaristic in its actions to secure fertile fishing grounds, such as its purported claims to the South China Sea that prompted the U.S. to formally call out the Chinese government last week.  Now, using satellite monitoring technology and intelligence capabilities, an investigation by NBC News and Ian Urbina an author and former NY Times journalist, has uncovered massive fishing by a “dark” fleet in North Korean waters with deadly results for North Korean fishermen.

Why This Matters:  China is a member of the UN Security Council that in 2017 banned fishing in North Korean waters (which China used to pay to access) as part of sanctions it imposed after North Korea’s nuclear missile tests.  If it’s true (and the UN has an anonymous report corroborating China’s violations with evidence to back it up) it would be a serious breach of the UN’s security rules — and more offensive than China’s disregard of previous unfavorable UN legal rulings.  North Korea is hardly a sympathetic victim, but China’s flouting of the UN Security Council rules would be an alarming disregard of the global security regime it helps to lead.

China and North Korea’s Deadly Competition For Squid

According to NBC and Urbina, the Chinese fishing fleet violating the UN ban is large — a full one-third of the entire fleet. These vessels turn off their transponders when in North Korean waters in order to elude detection, but because they use bright lights to fish for valuable squid, they can be detected by satellites, and NBC has the photos.  The investigators now believe based on satellite images that the Chinese fishing vessels also may be “violently displacing smaller North Korean boats and spearheading a decline in once-abundant squid stocks of more than 70 percent.”  In recent years, hundreds of “ghost” fishing boats from North Korea have turned up on the coast of Japan filled with the skeletons of North Korean fishermen — and no one knew why.

“This is the largest known case of illegal fishing perpetrated by a single industrial fleet operating in another nation’s waters,” Jaeyoon Park, a data scientist from Global Fishing Watch, a global ocean conservation nonprofit group co-founded by Google, based in Washington told NBC News. Global Fishing Watch uses artificial intelligence and satellite images and academic researchers to root out illegal fishing all over the world.

But there is also independent evidence of the illegal Chinese activity in North Korea. According to NBC, earlier this year the UN received an anonymous tip with “satellite imagery of the Chinese ships fishing in North Korean waters and testimony from a Chinese fishing crew who said it had alerted their government of its plans to fish in North Korean waters.”

To Go Deeper: The full investigative report from #FriendofthePlanet Ian Urbina and NBC News is a great read — worth the time, especially the graphics.  There is much more to this story than we could capture here.

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