LAS PALMAS, Spain ― Las Palmas, often dubbed a paradise for its mild climate, beautiful beaches and romantic atmosphere, has long been the base of South Korea’s distant-water fishing in the Atlantic since 1966.
The Spanish island situated near Morocco is now expected to transform into the frontline of Korea’s cutting-edge oceans and fisheries industries as the Korean government has announced a set of plans to cooperate with the local authorities and academia in joint research, development and potential businesses to woo European and African states.
On Thursday, the Korea Maritime Institute, or KMI, announced that it will join hands with the University of Las Palmas of Gran Canaria in projects ranging from ocean plant development and vessel repair and management, to fish-farming, maritime seed preservation and other areas.
The KMI has now established a branch on the island to oversee the projects. The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Korea Maritime and Ocean University, Korea Institute of Maritime and Fisheries Technology and Pukyong National University will also participate.
To mark the partnership, the KMI and Seoul’s oceans ministry held a Korean Oceans Week event at the Spain-based university this week.
Rafael Kines, senior researcher at the fish farming institute at the University of Las Palmas of Gran Canaria, explains to the Korean press about fish farming Wednesday. The school will cooperate with South Korean experts in research and development of various maritime studies and businesses.
South Korea expects the partnership will help it tap into Spain’s expertise in offshore plant management, fish farming and vessel repair. A bigger goal would be to draw attention from the EU and sub-Saharan countries, officials said. This will pave the way to advance into the respective markets.
“Las Palmas will be the window to the European and African markets,” said KMI president Kim Sung-gwi.
Spain, in return, is hoping for the inter-continental project to solidify its reputation as a maritime powerhouse to ultimately lead to funding opportunities from Korean companies and sponsors.
“The biggest ... geopolitical benefit we have is the fact that Las Palmas is Europe in Africa,” said Jose Garcia, president of Las Palmas University.
The partnership is also expected to revitalize the Korean community in Las Palmas, which has been dealing with a sluggish distant-water fishing industry in recent years.
The distant-water fishing industry, which accounted for more than 5 percent of Korea’s exports in the 1970s, has been struggling against international regulations and falling demand. The number of fishing vessels in the Atlantic dropped to around 40 units from the high of 200 in the 1970s and ’80s.
This has led to a contraction in the Korean fishing community in Las Palmas, with the number of fishermen and service providers slipping to 700 this year from a previous 3,000. The majority of these people are over 60 years old.
“Since the infrastructure for new businesses is pretty much in place in Las Palmas, including the personnel who understand the fisheries industry, the culture and sentiment of Korea and Spain, while also having access to a solid human network across Asia, we hope this new project will invigorate the Korean community in Spain,” said Hong Hyun-pyo, director of KMI’s Las Palmas branch.
By Bae Ji-sook, Korea Herald correspondent