Chinese fishing boats are increasingly conducting illegal fishing activities in North Korean waters following North Korean restrictions on fishing stemming from fears over COVID-19, Daily NK has learned. 

“Chinese boats are increasingly coming into our waters to catch fish,” a North Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK yesterday. “There’s been a lot of complaints [from North Korean fishermen] about how Chinese fishing boats are catching all the fish in the water.” 

“There are so many Chinese boats [illegally fishing in North Korean waters] that the North Korean military will shoot into the air – and sometimes even at the boats – to scare them away. But this doesn’t have much effect,” the source said, adding, “The Chinese boats are so fast that by the time military ships head out to intercept them, the [Chinese] boats have escaped back to Chinese waters.”

North Korean authorities have long been selling fishing rights in specific areas to the Chinese to increase the flow of foreign currency into the country. 

The cost of a three-month license to fish in North Korean waters is USD 57,000, according to a recent report published by the 1718 Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts. North Korea reportedly earned approximately USD 120 million in 2018 through the sale of these fishing permits.

UN Security Council Resolution 2397 bans the purchase of fishing licenses from North Korea. 


The sudden spike in illegal fishing by Chinese fishing vessels is a direct consequence of the North Korean government’s COVID-19-related restrictions on North Korean vessels.

“North Korea is afraid that the coronavirus will enter the country by sea, so the government has restricted fishing activity,” a China-based source told Daily NK. “The number of active fishing vessels are about one-third what they were before the start of the pandemic.” 

“Chinese boats sneak into North Korean waters at night to sweep up all their fish,” the source continued, adding, “Fishermen have been saying that because the North Korean boats haven’t been fishing in a while, there are more fish than ever before.”

According to the China-based source, Chinese fishermen typically go after sand lance – sometimes known as “sand eels” – and that just three or four hours out at sea can land them up to RMB 20,000 (around USD 2,794)-worth of fish. 

“That explains why so many Chinese fishermen are heading into North Korean waters to catch fish,” he added. 

Sand lance reportedly sells for about RMB 10 (USD 1.40) per 1.5 kilograms in Chinese seafood markets.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to