July 23 (UPI) -- Chinese fishing vessels operating illegally may have hollowed out North Korean waters and likely contributed to an 80 percent decline in local fish stocks, according to a new joint study of Chinese activity in North Korea.
Global Fishing Watch, a team of scientists based in South Korea, Japan, Australia and the United States, say they have monitored a "dark fleet" of hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels that cannot be tracked publicly. From 2017 to 2019, about 2,400 Chinese vessels were engaging in "clandestine fishing." The boats seized more than half a billion dollars worth of squid, the scientists said.
The large-scale movement of Chinese boats into North Korean waters appears to have been occurring in the wake of international sanctions restricting North Korea's seafood trade in 2017. The Chinese vessels are also violating sanctions through their North Korean activity, the study says.
The study also says Chinese overfishing is threatening the entire ecosystem of the region. The "catastrophic" activity has led to a significant decline in the supply of Japanese flying squid, a critical source of food for North and South Korea, as well as Japan, the scientists said.
High levels of Chinese fishing activity in North Korea have also pushed out North Korean fishermen to more dangerous waters. The North Koreans have been moved out north, toward Russia, and may be risking their lives. The study pointed out in recent years Japanese coastal towns have reported the appearance of North Korean "ghost boats" that arrive empty or with human remains.
Researchers affiliated with Global Fishing Watch are using satellite technology and machine learning to track hidden vessels at a time when North Korea sanctions are being violated in other parts of Asia.
Singapore's Straits Times reported Thursday a Singaporean woman was fined after pleading guilty to three charges of exporting luxury goods to North Korea, including perfumes and cosmetics.
International sanctions against the export of luxury items to North Korea have been expanded since 2006.