Thae Yong Ho: N. Korean fishermen are needlessly dying

"North Korean fishermen are risking their lives as they fish on their decrepit wooden boats in the cold winter," Thae says

Thae Young Ho, the former North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, recently criticized North Korea’s government for making North Korean fishermen suffer amidst emphasis on the need to increase seafood harvests. 

On a Tuesday segment of “Weekly North Korean Media” — a YouTube show jointly produced by Daily NK and Unification Media Group — Thae argued that “after Kim Jong Un conducted field guidance at the ‘August 25 Fishery Station’ and ‘Tongchon Fish Processing Station’ last month, there’s been a panic along the East Sea.” “Kim Jong Un simply hands down orders for a bumper haul, but fishermen, also called ‘fishing warriors,’ are being driven to wit’s end.”

“[In order to carry out Kim Jong Un’s orders] North Korean fishermen are risking their lives as they fish on their decrepit wooden boats in the cold winter,” added Thae. “The fishing that is going on in the East Sea isn’t just fishing but a war that takes people’s lives.”

Despite circumstances hazardous for fishing activities, North Korean fishermen are working anyway.

In a Nov. 22 article, the Rodong Sinmun reported that the “Danpung” line of fishing boats at all fishing stations were engaged in a vigorous fishing battle for greater productivity. “The waves are two to three meters high, the wind is blowing at a speed of 15 to 20 m/s, and the fierce waves are flying over the pier and battering the ship’s bridges,” the paper reported.

Wonsan sea
North Korean fishing boats on the water near Wonsan, Kangwon Province. / Image: Daily NK

“The station dispatcher’s frantic orders telling people to get to safety can be heard over the radio,” added Rodong Sinmun. “But none of the fishing boats stopped or turned back.”

Although the intention behind this report is to highlight how fishermen are engaging in fishing activities in order to uphold Kim’s orders, the article also reveals that the end result of this is that residents are being mobilized at risk to their lives.

According to the fishing activity index provided by the Korea Meteorological Administration’s weather forecasting service, waves higher than three meters and a wind velocity greater than 14 m/s are classified as hostile. While ships greater than 15 tons are still able to leave port in these conditions, the agency says that this is dangerous and recommends caution in doing so.

The weather conditions reported by Rodong Sinmun come close to meeting the requirements (waves equal to or higher than 5 meters, or winds equal to or greater than 21 m/s) of South Korea’s wind warnings, under which all fishing boats are prohibited from leaving port. 

“North Korean fishermen are heading into an extremely dangerous sea of death in order to uphold Kim Jong Un’s orders,” Thae said during the program. “Kim Jong Un should think again about whether it is worth risking people’s lives in order to catch fish.”

Similarly, due to a marine resources development policy being aggressively implemented by North Korean authorities, North Korean fishermen suffering from a variety of accidents. Some cases are those in which North Korean fishermen take small boats to the vicinity of Japan to fish, only to be struck by catastrophe.

Because of this, there are frequent sightings of bodies presumed to be North Korean fishermen along the western coast of Japan.

“There are fishermen who are found dead in Japan after fishing in dangerous conditions,” said former ambassador Thae. “But North Korea can’t even retrieve the bodies because of cost-related problems.”

Last year, from the Atsumi, Tsuruoka area in Yamagata Prefecture in Japan, Daily NK’s special reporting team reported the discovery of a wooden boat and body that appeared to have floated down from North Korea.

*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