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Fishing and aquaculture in South Korea under scrutiny

A South Korean woman walks past a giant fish sculpture in Danyang, north-central South Korea, 19 March 2013. EPA/BARBARA

Fishing and aquaculture in South Korea under scrutiny

Fishing and consumption of sea vegetables or seaweeds are integral to South Korea's way of life and culinary culture. The collection, serving and sale of these sea products drive the economy in many small Korean coastal fishing villages, popular harbors attracting busloads of domestic tourists eager to eat specialty assortments of fresh sea products along parts of South Korea's 10,000 km and more of coastline edging the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and Sea of Japan.

Before the rapid expansion of South Korea that saw it jettisoned to the status of a leading industrial giant in car manufacturing and the energy industry, fishing and agriculture formed the backbone of South Korea's economy. Today, it remains a dominant feature of life in coastal villages and culinary culture. South Korea is also a prominent world distant water fishing nation and fisheries exporter.

A visit to any one of the many fish markets throughout South Korea reveals the fascinating array of sea products consumed, and emphasizes the strong domestic demand for fresh sea products. Many loved Korean fish dishes involve consumption of raw fish - dishes of sliced raw fish and even raw octopus and many seaweed assortments.

Seaweed production also drives its aquaculture industry, and South Korea's focus is to boost its sustainability in fisheries and forge ahead with the expansion of its aquaculture output, now dominant with seaweeds such as kelp and laver and rockfish, flounder, oysters and abalone. South Korea is already the world's sixth largest in terms of producing aquaculture products, but ranks as number one in terms of comparable area productivity.

But as a fishing production leader, South Korea has also been the focus of recent criticism. Greenpeace East Asia has urged the South Korean government to improve on its practices in the sea. Greenpeace has alleged that South Korean ships have been involved in illegal fishing practices and human rights abuses, creating unsustainable fishing practices that jeopardize its fish trade with the US and EU, as outlined in the Greenpeace's April 2013 report on Korea's Distant Water Fisheries. 

In July 2013, a new amendment to South Korea's Water Fisheries Act was passed which raises fines for said abuses and practices. According to Greenpeace East Asia oceans campaigner Jiehyun Park, "These new provisions finally start addressing the huge and embarrassing problem of illegal fishing by South Korea's fleets. But South Korea still has a long way to go and we will be keeping a close watch to ensure more progressive legislation is introduced without delay to address both illegal fishing and the need to manage fisheries sustainably." (Greenpeace.org)

(Barbara Walton/EPA)