Posts Tagged ‘Kim Jong Un and fisheries’

Fishing for the Army in North Korea

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

What with Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s recent execution of his uncle Jang Sung Thaek, not to mention Dennis Rodman’s crazed basketball undiplomacy, North Korea has been in the news again. Though Jang’s execution certainly indicates political power conflicts we know little about, it also has called attention to the very unusual ways that fisheries and other businesses are managed in North Korea.

An infrared image of the Korean peninsula at night. North Korea is mostly dark. Fishing boats of other nations cluster along 200 mile limit (akbizmag.com).

An infrared image of the Korean peninsula at night. North Korea is mostly dark. Fishing boats of other nations cluster along 200 limits (akbizmag.com).

In North Korea, an ‘army first’ policy continues to dominate economic affairs, yet the army is not funded by a central budget. Instead the military owns companies, organizations, and their banks, and funds itself from their profits. Various fisheries are among those companies. Fishing companies supply the military directly with fish to feed the very hungry soldiers, and they also produce some of the few products – like clams and crabs – that they can sell for international currency (the Chinese are the only trading partner left), and the profits go to the military.

Different government agencies own different companies, so there is conflict among the agencies for access to those companies. When Kim Jong Un inherited power two years ago, he gave control of the fish trade to his cabinet to promote the economy. Uncle Jang grabbed it, consolidated his companies, and gathered the profits for himself and his political interests.

But then a few months ago, Kim Jong Un saw some his soldiers going very hungry, and ordered the return of control of the fisheries to the military. The soldiers sent to carry out the order were met with stiff resistance by men loyal to uncle Jang, a few were killed, and the military backed off. The Supreme Leader was furious, sent in more soldiers, regained control of the fisheries, executed two of Jang’s top aides, then arrested and quickly executed uncle Jang as well.

Since the Dec 12 execution, Kim Jong Un has enthusiastically encouraged army regulars to fish on the side. And the only management strategy of fisheries that appears to exist is his exhortation for fishermen to fish ever harder to feed and fund the army.

Supreme leader Kim Jong Un inspects a storage facility for frozen squid, not long after executing his uncle Jang (independent.co.com)

Supreme leader Kim Jong Un inspects a storage facility for frozen squid, not long after executing his uncle Jang (independent.co.com)

In recent weeks a couple of North Korean fishing boats have drifted into South Korean waters. One had no crew or fuel. The other had a few crew and no fuel – it had drifted for a month since it left port with insufficient fuel to go very far and it got caught in winds and currents, leaving the crew to try to survive on whatever fish they could then catch. At least they were fishermen.

North Korean fishing boat that drifted into south Korean waters in early January (koreajoongangdaily.joins.com).

North Korean fishing boat drifted into south Korean waters in early January(koreajoongangdaily.joins.com).

So Fishermen in North Korea fish for the army. Any profits go to the army. The army depends on the profits from the fisheries as well as from other companies to fund itself. Regulations on fishing do not exist, but fishermen are encouraged to fish for quotas they cannot reach, and their supervisors are expected to report when they meet their quotas. Fishing boats are small, underequipped, and access to sufficient fuel is one of many challenges. Fishing is very hard.

And it gets harder. Last week reports surfaced of another event. A couple of fishing boats, with 22 crew including some women, crossed into into South Korean waters and were picked up by a South Korean patrol boat. When questioned, the North Koreans denied they were seeking asylum, so the South Koreans sent them home overland. When they arrived, they were all shot. True? The scanty sources seem reliable, and have not yet been denied. What is true is that we think this is all too possible.

Such conflicts and deaths are collateral damage of an irrational and absurd way to manage fisheries.

The rest of us should truly appreciate our own methods of fisheries management, no matter their flaws.

Little news gets out of North Korea (nationalpost.com)

Little news gets out of North Korea (nationalpost.com)