It is lamentable that Korea faces a ban on exporting its fish and fishery products to member countries of the European Union for its failure to fully cooperate in fighting “illegal, unreported and unregulated” fishing.
Last November, the European Commission preliminarily identified Korea as a noncooperating country in fighting IUU fishing, citing its failure to properly monitor its fishing fleet, punish vessels engaged in illegal fishing and enact robust fisheries laws.
An inspection team from the commission came to Korea earlier this week to evaluate the nation’s vessel monitoring system and check whether its sanctions against illegal fishing operators were in compliance with international standards.
Based on the team’s findings, the commission will make a final decision in September. Korea would suffer serious economic and diplomatic losses should the commission brand it as a noncooperating country.
First, Korea would be banned from exporting fish and fishery products, amounting to $100 million a year, to EU countries. On top of this, Korean vessels would be denied access to EU ports.
Furthermore, the commission’s decision could have a negative effect on the United States’ evaluation of Korea. The U.S. issued a yellow card to Korea in January last year ahead of the EU and is to announce its final decision early next year.
More than anything else, the IUU fishing country designation would be a humiliating stigma to Korea, given its high profile in the global economy.
To avoid being stigmatized, Korea has taken a set of measures since early last year. For instance, it revised the Distant Water Fisheries Development Act in July last year, following recommendations from the EU.
This year, Korea launched an advanced vessel monitoring system. All of the nation’s 339 distant fishing vessels have been equipped with an electronic device so that the Fisheries Monitoring Center in Busan can keep track of them.
But these efforts have failed to impress EU officials. The European Commission reportedly remains unconvinced of Korea’s commitment to combating IUU fishing.
So Korea’s fishery officials proposed tougher sanctions against illegal fishing operators and other improvements to the EU delegation, which wrapped up its on-site inspection Wednesday. Whether Korea’s last-ditch efforts will work or not remains to be seen.
Korean officials may feel hard done by. But they have no one but themselves to blame. They had enough time to address the problems but failed to do so.
Korea should redouble its efforts to fight illegal fishing as it depletes fish stocks, hurts the marine environment and jeopardizes the livelihoods of vulnerable communities.