North Korea Boosts Fishing Sector Despite U.N. Sanctions

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a fishery. (Photo: Rodong Sinmun)



North Korea continues to promote its seafood industry despite United Nations sanctions prohibiting the country from doing so.

Maritime sanctions evasion by North Korea has become increasingly sophisticated, the U.N. found earlier this year, and Kharon reported earlier this month about one of its principal methods.

The U.N. Security Council prohibits North Korea from exporting fish, or from selling or transferring, directly or indirectly, its fishing rights. Nevertheless, the U.N. and media organizations have observed fishing vessels illicitly operating and Kharon found more vessels conducting “apparent fishing activity” using maps from Global Fishing Watch, a non-profit that promotes ocean sustainability and tracks fishing vessels through satellite technology.

Fishing vessels are exempt from having a unique identifying International Maritime Organization (IMO) number, and the international community lacks a record that offers full coverage of operating fishing vessels, making it difficult to efficiently track their ownership, name and flag registration.

Global Fishing Watch says it relies on a fishing detection algorithm, based on changes in vessel speed and direction, as well as vessel Automatic Information System (AIS) location data, to make its findings. The organization cautions that its determinations of apparent fishing activity “should be considered an estimate,” in part because of potentially incomplete information.

Liaodanyu 26096 (辽丹渔 26096), a vessel flying a Chinese flag, appeared to engage in fishing activity in North Korean waters on Oct. 22, according to AIS data collected by Global Fishing Watch. The Liaodanyu 26096 made a port call six days earlier in Dandong, China, maritime data show.

The voyage by Liaodanyu 26096 from Dandong to North Korean waters suggests that Pyongyang may continue to sell its fishing rights to Chinese companies, activity highlighted earlier this year by the U.N.

Other vessels with ties to Dandong, where North Korean seafood is sold in markets, shows similar activity. The 25802, another China-flagged fishing vessel, conducted apparent fishing activity in North Korean waters in October 2019. There are two fishing vessels that have the same Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) as the 25802, which are the Liaodanyu 25588 and the Liaodanyu 2547, according to maritime data. The vessels share the name “Liaodanyu” because it refers to the location of their registration Dandong, Liaoning Province, China.

MMSIs are nine-digit numbers used to identify a vessel, but they differ from an IMO in that a ship’s MMSI can change whereas an IMO number lasts for the life of the vessel. MMSIs also serve as a phone number to contact the vessel.

Uruguay-flagged vessel %RB was seen conducting an apparent fishing activity within North Koreans waters on Oct. 2, according to Global Fishing Watch. The %RB then made a port call in Shidao, China, on Oct. 4, according to maritime data.

Shidao is the largest fishing port in northern China, but according to a report from the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China, the Bohai Sea, where the Shidao port sits, is running out of large fish due to overfishing and pollution.

The fishing vessel Qingdongyu 12122 (琼东渔 12122) displayed a fishing permit number plate issued by North Korea, according to an August report by the U.N. Panel of Experts. Vessels from a third country are heading towards North Korea fishing zones without fishing permit number plates, the U.N. report said.