North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has put a ban on
fisheries exports, while vowing to increase fish supply for the public and
soldiers, Daily NK has learned.
“A mandate from the Marshal (Kim Jong Un)
was recently handed down, putting a full stop on the export of high-end marine
goods and other fisheries,” a source from Kangwon Province told Daily NK on
Tuesday. “Fish that have been caught at sea can no longer get through the
customs office at the border.”
Daily NK crosschecked this news with an additional source in the same province.
Added the source, “Because of this ban, sales of fish at
general markets have seen a sharp increase; all of the
refrigerated trucks that go from the ocean to customs are now busy making their
way to large cities and inland areas.”
Fisheries have been an important means for
North Korea to bring in foreign currency for some two decades. Much of the profits
made on them go towards ‘loyalty funds’ for the leader or the Party, or are
also used to fund ‘special provisions’ that are handed out to people under Kim
Jong Un’s name.
The basic operation within North Korea’s
fisheries industry centers on ‘fisheries business units’. The Party, military,
and Cabinet each run their own units. Directly under the Workers’ Party is the
‘fisheries export unit’, which is operated by the Daesung General Bureau (trade
company), and in terms of the military, each corps runs a ‘no. 18 fisheries
business unit’. There are also ‘regional fisheries units’, which are operated
by the people’s economic arm of the Cabinet.
What is most notable about the recent
mandate is the idea of supplying more for the military.
“The fish that are caught by military units and the export units under the Daesung General Bureau are all supplied to
the rear services of the People’s Armed Forces,” she explained. “Officials that have been dispatched by the Armed Forces to each
fisheries unit allocate which supplies should go to what military base.”
All of the dried squid, frozen small
octopus, king crabs, shrimp, and other shellfish caught in the East Sea, as
well as blue crab and other fisheries from the West Sea used to go to China,
but now they’re all being sent to military bases, according to the source, who added that Party cadres there have been saying, “It’s good to smell fish in the air again”
and have welcomed this move.
Other fisheries units that fall under the
Cabinet are busy distributing the marine goods at general markets. “The export
processing businesses that had earned in foreign currency from China are now
turning to local markets to make money,” she asserted. “Refrigerated trucks
that all used to head to the border customs office are now making their way
towards Pyongyang, Pyongsong, and Sariwon.”
In terms of why the Kim regime has enforced
this fresh directive, divergent opinions are making the rounds.
Some speculate that the state coffers may
have relatively more resources than in the past. The yuan that Pyongyang
usually rakes in from China through fisheries exports is by no means
insignificant. Estimates from the South’s Korea Trade-Investment Promotion
Agency [KOTRA]’s ‘North Korea Trade Status 2014’ indicates it sees over 1 billion USD brought in from China just from fisheries.
Especially supplies from military corps
fisheries units and export units under Daesung are all related to providing for
Although most of the money made by corps
fisheries units, which all run under the same name of ‘no.18 fisheries units’,
goes towards funds for self-sufficient operation, part of the profits are set
aside for ‘loyalty funds’ that are offered up on the birthdays of former
leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
Meanwhile, Daesung General Bureau is
directly operated by the Party and acts as a channel for foreign currency
earning. It runs one fisheries export unit each near the West and East Sea, and
all gains are circulated back to Office No. 39 at the Party.
Given this, it would be hard for Kim Jong
Un to carry out a measure as drastic as this ban unless he had confidence about
his personal and Party funds, the source surmised.
On the other hand, others speculate the
leadership could be carrying out a policy of supply for its people in order to
win back support. However, this simple approach of “feeding people a lot of
fish” is only one that would have worked back in the ‘90s, according to the
“The Marshal has for many years now been
touring military bases and emphasizing the issue of food supply for soldiers,
but nothing has changed much,” the source said. “He also gave dozens of fishing
boats to fisheries business units as a gift, but all of the marine goods would
just be shipped off for exports.”
The response to this fisheries windfall is
also starkly different between potential recipients of the fish and those in
the fisheries industry, she said, noting, “Some military cadre are welcoming the move
saying regular soldiers and their families will be able to get their hands on
luxury fish that were even hard to spot in the past, but cadre at fisheries
units are not pleased at all.”
“The fish supplied to the military bases
are already making their way to general markets. Fish are
expensive at general markets, so some military cadres are using the supply to
With the added volume rerouted from
military bases to the marketplace, general markets that already have more
frozen fish that were once designated for exports are seeing fish prices
“Even the high-end marine goods that were so
expensive that only Party cadres could afford them have become accessible to most
people,” she concluded.