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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
A delegation from North Korea’s Ministry of Fisheries (MOF) departed for Moscow on Monday to attend the next session of a joint commission on fishery cooperation, Russia’s embassy in Pyongyang reported, saying it hopes to see “urgent” steps taken to end the DPRK’s illegal fishing activities.
In the brief report of Ambassador Alexander Matsegora’s meeting with delegation head and MOF vice-minister Kim Chang Do ahead of his departure for Moscow, strong emphasis was placed on Russia’s concerns over the DPRK’s illegal fishing off its waters in the Far East.
Matsegora “stressed the need to take the most urgent measures” to address “the widespread violations of the rules and norms of fishing in Russian waters by [North] Korean fishermen,” it said.
These violations, the statement emphasized, have “recently become widespread.”
For his part, Kim reportedly indicated that the DPRK side “is determined to act in the most decisive way in order to rectify the situation.”
North Korean illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) has become a major issue in the Far Eastern Primorsky region and a source of contention between the two countries.
Russia has often complained of its frequent need to rescue DPRK fishermen in its waters, allegations of North Koreans abandoning boats and committing theft on its shores, and even that Pyongyang does not hold up its end of deals made in previous joint commission meetings.
This month’s meetings in Moscow are officially referred to as the 31st session of the Russian-Korean Mixed Commission for Cooperation in the Field of Fisheries.
During his Monday talks in Pyongyang, Matsegora also cited recent high-profile reporting on the issue by a journalist with the local government-funded outlet OTV, the embassy post said.
In October last year, OTV reported that the ambassador had conveyed concerns over IUU fishing to then-Director of the First European Department of the DPRK foreign ministry (now vice-foreign minister) Im Chon Il in a meeting in the DPRK capital.
Matsegora reportedly told the journalist at the time that Im “took my information very seriously, [and] promised to report urgently to his management, to address the fishing organizations.”
One theme from the Russian side appears to be over a lack of expediency on the part of North Korea, with numerous IUU fishing incidents since the 30th session on the field of fisheries in 2018.
The issue of illegal fishing and breaking agreed protocols has been on the agenda for such meetings dating back decades, however.
Results of the 15th session in 2001, for example, said that procedure was not being followed by North Korean ships in Russian waters, and that the DPRK side had failed to pay fines from 1993 and 1998.
A memorandum of understanding was signed at the 24th session in 2010, at which both sides promised to develop cooperation in the prevention of further IUU fishing incidents, and it has also been included in the agenda in the past few years.
Quotas for catches of various seafood products are negotiated each year, too, with each side allocated permits to fish the other’s waters.
An article published in local outlet Primpress in May, however, stated that in 2018, the Russian side detailed in commission protocols the “failure by the [North] Korean side to take measures to pay fines and redress damage, as well as to prevent” illegal fishing.
That article raised past failures to pay such fines for violations, while also criticizing the Russian side for continuing to issue quotas to the DPRK and arguing that no further permits should be granted at meetings in Moscow this month.
Additionally, the author asserted that Russians “are not taking advantage… of the quotas allocated” for their fishing in DPRK waters — a result of, in part, harassment of Russian ships by North Korean military patrols.
Notably, the DPRK arrested a Russian ship and its 17 crewmen last month, reportedly for their illegal crossing into North Korean waters.
Another issue often raised over DPRK activities in Russian Far East waters is the burden of rescuing North Koreans, with their wooden boats often found abandoned on the shores — issues also raised publicly by the Primorsky governor this year.
Accusations of North Koreans coming ashore and stealing vessel equipment have also been numerous in recent years, and has even led to local authorities issuing official warnings to citizens to be vigilant on the matter.
Last week, for instance, the administration of the small settlement of Preobrazheniye east of Nakhodka urged locals to report incursions and landings by DPRK vessels and nationals to Federal Security Service-run (FSB) border agencies.
An FSB official also publicly complained in April that “DPRK vessels interfere with the fishing of Russian vessels, including the theft of catches and tools” used by Russian ships.
With the Russian ambassador’s remarks posted to the embassy’s Facebook on Monday, it is clear that Moscow and regional authorities in the Far East hope to see results in this year’s meetings and to finally overcome previous agreements failing to materialize.
North Korean media announced the delegation’s trip to Moscow on late Monday as well, though did not provide dates or an agenda for the DPRK side.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News