Anti-Chinese illegal fishing bill lacks tooth
By Kim Jung-yoon
The National Assembly passed a bill Thursday aimed at strengthening the punishment for illegal fishing. Passage of the bill drew attention as it comes amid tension following Chinese fishermen attacking Korean fisheries inspectors in the West Sea.
Although unlikely to bring about a significant change to the current situation, involving trespassing into the nation’s territorial waters the amendment involves increasing the maximum fine on illegal fishing in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to 200 million won ($177,500) from the current 100 million won, and subjecting the vessel owner to a 100 million won fine from 50 million won.
Of the 172 attending lawmakers, 168 approved the bill, while none opposed and four abstained.
Adding to the increase in possible fines, fishermen fishing illegally will not be able to retrieve confiscated fishing gear or the ship after they pay the fine.
The bill was first proposed by Rep. Hyun Ki-hwan and Rep. Kang Suk-ho of the ruling Saenuri Party and Rep. Kang Gi-gap of the minor opposition United Progressive Party (UPP). Public outrage peaked over the killing of a coastguard by a Chinese skipper during a fight on a trawler illegally fishing in South Korean waters in December.
Chinese ships have become increasingly bold in extending their fishing areas.
However, observers say that the rise in penalties is trivial compared to the hundreds of millions of won in profits the illegal Chinese fishermen generate by trawling in the EEZ.
The passed bill did not increase the number of inspectors on the grounds of a budget shortage. Even with stricter punishment, the inspectors explained that it was impossible to control illegal fishing due to the lack of equipment and personnel.
The government earlier promised it would expand the number as well as equipment during its announcement of comprehensive countermeasures in early December. Still, there are only 20 personnel operating in the 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) between Baengnyeong Island and Marado in the West Sea.
“As a result, there are only seven protective uniforms available on the control boat. When we were attacked by Chinese fishermen on Monday, only seven out of 16 crew members could wear the clothing,” said an official from the West Sea Fisheries Association in a news broadcast.