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The ocean drives global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea.
Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future. However, at the current time, there is a continuous deterioration of coastal waters owing to pollution, and ocean acidification is having an adversarial effect on the functioning of ecosystems and biodiversity. This is also negatively impacting small scale fisheries.
Marine protected areas need to be effectively managed and well-resourced and regulations need to be put in place to reduce overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification.
14.1 By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
14.2 By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans
14.3 Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels
14.4 By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics
14.5 By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information
14.6 By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation
14.7 By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism
14.a Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing States and least developed countries
14.b Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets
14.c Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in UNCLOS, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of The Future We Want
SDG 14 and the North Korean Government
“As a country surrounded by the sea and occupied with wetlands, the DPRK has pledged to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources, because “protecting the water area ecosystem takes an important place in the development of [the] economy and in improving people’s livelihood.” In fact North Korea has claimed April and July as ‘Marine Resource Protection Months,’ as months for when activities are conducted to “to propagate the knowledge to protect the coastal resources including shellfish, sea-ear and seaweed and the controlling.”
In its report on biodiversity, the DPRK has reported that the overuse of natural resources is the main threat causing negative impacts on biodiversity and is linked to marine pollution: “according to the increase of treeless lands, the flooding of soil and sand causes the destruction of the river ecosystem, followed by negative impact on the coastal ecosystem as well. It also causes the decrease of fishery resources inter alia, inland and coastal ones.”
The strengthening of water management and marine resources was proclaimed by Kim Jong Un in 2012 to be a task that should be focused on, in order to build a “socialist powerful nation” The DPRK has reported that it has created artificial reefs to protect marine ecosystems and “release[d] billions of good breed young fishes with high productivity.” Moreover, according to its 2021 VNR report, the DPRK government set the protection of marine resources since 2019, as one of the state’s policy and implements the plan of marine resources protection and increase. The government further stated that “The measures are taken to prevent marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.”
In its effort to regulate fishing in a sustainable manner, the DPRK has stated that it has a strict system with rules for sustainable use of marine resources within the ecological limits of the coast and sea ecosystem. The importance of developing the fishery industry has been highlighted by Rodong Sinmun, including ventures by fisheries units to protect and breed high-grade fish species. At the same time, Kim Jong-un spoke about the need for national measures to boost the fishing sector in his 2014 New Year Speech. These measures included the modernization of fishing vessels, dynamic fishing campaigns by scientific methods as well as shallow-sea farming on an extensive scale.
In an effort to work towards SDG 14, the DPRK has pledged to increase scientific knowledge, develop research and marine technology. The DPRK has stated that it will “disseminate the developed technologies for the increment of freshwater and marine fishery and restore the inland water and marine ecosystems and increase the number and size of reserves.” One example that was reported by Rodong Sinmun, was the Wonsan National Fisheries University, where professors and researchers are studying the artificial breeding of eels and technology to use in the East Sea. North Korean marine science research institutes and fishery stations have developed artificial proliferation and technology of making fishing grounds of marine products that are over-exploited and have decreased.
SDG 14 and North Korean Escapees
“Almost anybody can become a fisherman in North Korea. When it is the squid season, many people are mobilised to work on squid trawlers […] I mostly fished in the East Sea. I made up my mind to come to South Korea while working. I was the captain of the boat and had not registered my boat.”
[Interview by NKDB in 2019 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]
“My younger brother was a fisherman. The boats in North Korea are small wooden boats. They had to make a living so there were five people on board. It rained a lot that night unexpectedly so none of the 5 made it back.”
[Interview by NKDB in 2019 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]
“I was in a labour training camp for 6 months. There were women there as well, about 105 men and 40 women. There were groups of people who had been caught working in China and others who had been squid fishing in the Soviet seas. They were caught and brought back. I was there until May 24th. It was very difficult.
[Interview by NKDB in 2016 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]
SDG 14 and the International Community
While the DPRK pledges to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources, relevant stakeholders have raised concerns about the deteriorating water quality, and overfishing in the push for economic development. Though the North Korean leader has issued strict orders and legal regulations to North Korean fishermen for the sustainable use of fishery resources, the DPRK allows Chinese fishing boats to pay to fish in the East Sea waters. According to sources, despite the UN sanctions imposed in 2017 which forbids North Korea from selling its fishing rights in its waters for foreign currency, the number of Chinese fishing boats paying about $30,000 to $50,000 per ship, increased from 144 in 2004 to 2,161 in 2018.
China’s vast fishing fleet in North Korea is problematic from a conservation perspective as the boats descend deep into the sea leading to serious depletion and devastation of fishing grounds in North Korea’s waters. Moreover, as several data sources reflect, it is a major human rights problem as it has been linked to the deaths of North Korean fishermen whose corpses were often discovered washed ashore along the coast of Japan. Through satellite data, NBC News found that China was sending industrial boats to illegally fish in North Korean waters, smaller North Korean boats were displaced and desperate fishermen were forced to travel dangerous distances from shore where they become stranded and die from exposure. The North Korean government’s shifting effort for North Korean small scale fishers in combination with the competition from industrial Chinese trawlers have resulted in a growing human rights problem.
As North Korean fishers are displaced because of the competition from the industrial Chinese trawlers, they have been pushed into Russian waters to sustain their livelihood. Not only are the North Korean smaller wood boats ill-equipped for long-distance travel, but due to the fact that they are fishing illegally in Russian waters, once they are caught they face punishment in a detention facility in North Korea upon repatriation.