North Korea removes fishing restrictions in the Yellow Sea

North Korea has reopened the Yellow Sea to its fisheries after banning fishing there for around three years due to COVID-19 concerns, sources in the county told Radio Free Asia.

North Korea declared a national emergency at the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020, shutting down its border with China and suspending fishing operations in the seas adjacent to the country.

With a lack of imports and dwindling food supplies, authorities reopened limited maritime trade in the second half of 2021, and reopened the fisheries in waters east of the peninsula in August 2022.

Fishing on the Yellow Sea, called the West Sea by Koreans, remained suspended until last week, and now the Ministry of Fisheries is trying to get every available fishing boat out on the water as soon as possible.

“In the West Sea, the emergency measures for COVID-19 quarantine that had been in place for almost three years have been lifted,” a source from South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang, told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “Ships from fisheries offices were allowed to go out and were also given quotas of fish they must give to the state.”

The source said that anchovies and clams caught in the sea are immediately sent to the fisheries office’s refrigerated warehouse and donated to the state.

Authorities are propagandizing the reopening of the Yellow Sea to fisheries, telling the people that they anticipate a “great wind” of freshly caught fish, a source in the northwestern province of North Pyongan told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

“The authorities are promoting that fish will soon be on everyone’s plates, adding a huge improvement to our diets,” the source said. “The people are laughing at this, saying, ‘When has the country EVER supplied us with fish?”

Though the authorities are urging that every fishery start operations immediately, many of the ships and equipment are badly in need of repair, according to the source.

“Managers are troubled by the authorities’ instructions to figure out funding for ship repair and maintenance on their own,” the source said. “The fisheries officials therefore have no choice but to borrow funds from rich moneylenders … and the anchovies and shrimp netted by smaller ships are sold in the marketplaces to pay back the lenders.”

The wealthy are also able to net significant profits by renting the larger ships, according to the source.

“They buy the nets and fuel … set sail to distant seas and catch lots of fish,” the source said. “They hand over 60% of their catch to the fisheries office, and sell the rest themselves in the marketplace.”

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