Fishing and Aquaculture in South Korea

May 19, 2021Lu Shegay


South Korea is the country in East Asia having open access to the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and the Sea of Japan. With that being said, fishing and aquaculture are common production types of the country. Meat is a popular ingredient in Asian meals, but cuisine usually varies by province. With the coastline around the country’s peninsula with 5401 mi (8693 km), Korea has developed a seafood culture based on marine products. The country mostly relies on marine aquaculture, namely heavy capture production. The major products produced by Korea are seaweed, mollusks, and finfish. Freshwater aquaculture is less popular, producing finfish, mollusks, and crustaceans.

South Korea is one of the world’s biggest seafood consumers and the fourth-largest producer in the world. During 2013-2015, the average per capita fish consumption reached 128.7 lbs (58.4 kg) in South Korea. It is expected that per capita consumption in the country will reach over 64 kg by 2025.

In 2016, Korea received approximately 1.4 million tonnes of fish and seafood from over 100 countries. The major suppliers include China (27%), Russia (15%), Vietnam (13%), the U.S. (6%), and Norway (5%). Korea is considered the dominant producer of crab, with its import of 44 500 tonnes in 2016.

In 2016, Korea exported 456 700 tonnes of seafood worth USD 1.6 billion. Korea exported its seafood to Japan (36%), China (18%), and the U.S. (9%).

Bucket of Gray Crabs by Mark Stebnicki from Pexels


According to the statistics provided by the FAO Fisheries, in 2003, the total fisheries production was 2 492 545 tonnes with 1 652 700 tonnes of capture and 839 845 tonnes of aquaculture production. The common species of aquatic animals caught are anchovy, squid, and mackerel, as well as yellow croaker and swordfish.

“South Korea’s deep-sea fishing fleet experiences the most fluctuation in output with the total deep-sea catch varying by plus or minus 10% to 15% in most years. In 2006, deep seas fisheries production reached 639,000mt, an increase of 15% from 552,000mt the previous year but below the 2000 deep-sea catch totaling 651,000mt at the start of the decade.

The deep-sea fishing fleet operates mainly in the North and South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, catching mostly tuna and Alaska Pollack. Most of the Alaska Pollack catch is brought back to South Korea for domestic consumption while about 50% of the tuna catch is landed in foreign ports. The deep-sea fleet also fishes for squid near the Falklands Islands.

Tuna is the major fish type in the deep sea catch of which skipjack is about 65% by weight. Tuna accounts for almost half of the total deep-sea catch. Alaska Pollack is normally the second largest species caught by the deep-sea fleet followed by squid. Saury and croaker are the other important species for South Korea’s deep-sea fishermen.”

Read more: South Korea - World Fishing & Aquaculture

Aquaculture Production

Inland culture uses the tank-based farming system for flounder and eel and raceways system for rainbow trout. Approximately 121 853 ha are taken over for the aquaculture industry. That includes 68 062 ha for seaweed production, 47 381 ha for shellfish, 2136 ha for finfish, and 4274 for other aquatic animals.

In 2003, 98% of total production was marine aquaculture with 55% of seaweed produced, including sea mustard, laver, kelp, green laver, etc. The second most produced group of marine aquaculture is mollusk species, including oysters, Korean mussels, the sea squirt red oyas, the Japanese carpet shell, ark shells, cockles, Yesso scallop, and abalone. The common farmed marine finfish in the country are bastard halibut, Korean rockfish, mullet, seabass, yellowtail, red seabream, black seabream, brown croaker, and puffers.

In South Korea, farms are placed on the south and west coasts, primarily on Jeju island. Each farm produces approximately 110 tonnes per year.

“Longline-based oyster farming is practiced on the southeast and southern coasts, including the Tongyoung blue belts where the water depths are 5-20 m. Longlines of about 100 m long are stretched horizontally on the surface of the water, spaced 5-10 m apart, float, and anchored firmly to the bottom to keep the long lines on the surface of the water. Vertical ropes are hung from the long lines at intervals of 50-70 cm to which seed collectors are attached every 30-50 cm, normally, the lines are made of polyethylene, and the floats are of styrofoam. The farming of oysters, mussels, pearl oysters, and sea squirts is based on these longline systems.”

“Offshore systems which are commonly used for Korean rockfish, one of the most important marine species in the country are usually produced in offshore floating net-pens. Fixed and semi-floating culture systems are used for laver seaweed production.

Due to the country's high population density and limited available land area, commercial recirculation fish culture systems have become important production systems. These systems require high initial capital investment for the construction of the farm and a high level of management, but this is matched by the high output due to high stocking density.”

Read more: South Korea - National Aquaculture Sector Overview

"Old woman at the Busan Fish Market - Jagalchi (IMG_3073-1)" by evenkolder is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Fisheries Act

In 2013, the government enacted the Fisheries Act, the purpose of which is “to establish a fundamental system for fisheries to promote the development of fisheries and the democratization of fishery business by comprehensively utilizing fishery resources and waters and consequently enhancing the productivity of fisheries.” (Art. 1)

The Act defines fisheries as “any fishery business, fishery catch transportation business, and marine product processing business” and fish farming as “business of cultivating seaweed, shellfish, fishes or similar, combined cultivation business, cooperative cultivation business and business of cultivation in the open sea referred to in Article 8, and business of cultivation in inland seawater and business of producing seeds and seedlings stipulated in Article 41 (3) 2 and 3.” (Art. 2) This Act applies to seas and seashores, as well as sea waters developed on land artificially for purposes of fishery business.

The Act contains the provisions on the fishery business license, its transfer to foreign citizens, licenses, and restrictions. For instance, Article 18 states that “any person, who obtains a fishery business license in accordance with Article 8 or has a fishery right transferred or split off in accordance with Article 21, shall acquire the fishery right only when the license is registered on the original register of fishery rights under Article 19.”

Moreover, with regard to the use of patrol vessel, restrictions, and prohibitions, Article 27 says when “any fishery right holder who intends to use a fishing vessel necessary for control of a fishing ground for the fishery business,” they shall have the vessel “so designated by the head of a Si/Gun/Gu. In such cases, only a fishing vessel owned or leased by the fishery right holder (including a person who exercises the fishery right in accordance with Article 37) may be designated as a patrol vessel.”

Fresh Prawns by Tom Fisk from Pexels

International Disputes

One of the main issues concerning fishing activities is overfishing, and such an issue exists among the three seas that surround Korea. South Korea has had a prolonged issue with China concerning their maritime zones after they both joined the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The interest of South Korea was its dependence on international trade, economic interests, and commercial ties.

Seoul and Beijing had overlapping claims over each of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) in the Yellow or West Sea. In case of overlapping EEZ claims, the international law regulations, namely UNCLOS, provide that the negotiations shall be made by the countries that claim the territory. South Korea and China met numerous times to resolve the issue but have not been able to reach a consensus. “South Korea has called for the issue to be settled through the 'median line' principle which draws the line equidistant from rok and Chinese baselines while China has insisted the line be drawn proportionally taking into account the extent of its coastline and population.”

Another issue between the two countries was illegal fishing by Chinese vessels. Chinese boats exercised overfishing in the waters adjacent to the mainland and required their boats to go beyond the territorial waters to maintain the size of the catches.

“Seoul and Beijing have concluded agreements to manage the fishing problem but enforcement concerns continue, particularly regarding Chinese vessels in Korea’s waters. Violence has been a regular occurrence between Korea's Coast Guard and Chinese fishing boats. In December 2010, two Chinese fishermen died from a collision with a Korea Coast Guard vessel and in December 2011, a crewmember of a Korea Coast Guard cutter was killed and another wounded when a Chinese ship captain stabbed him with a piece of glass during a boarding operation. Though Chinese enforcement has improved, Korea’s authorities deem it insufficient as illegal fishing continues to be a serious problem. In 2015, South Korea seized over 600 Chinese ships for illegal fishing, and Korea’s naval vessels have now joined the maritime police and coast guard to patrol for Chinese fishing boats.”

Read more: Caught in the Middle: South Korea and the South China Sea Arbitration Decision

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