Ban on fisheries exports sees domestic supply climb

Choi Song Min  |  2015-10-28 11:36
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North Koreas Kim Jong Un has put a ban on fisheries exports, while vowing to increase fish supply for the public and soldiers, Daily NK has learned. 

A mandate from the Marshal (Kim Jong Un) was recently handed down, putting a full stop on the export of high-end marine goods and other fisheries, a source from Kangwon Province told Daily NK on Tuesday. Fish that have been caught at sea can no longer get through the customs office at the border." 

Daily NK crosschecked this news with an additional source in the same province. 

Added the source, Because of this ban, sales of fish at general markets have seen a sharp increase; all of the refrigerated trucks that go from the ocean to customs are now busy making their way to large cities and inland areas." 

Fisheries have been an important means for North Korea to bring in foreign currency for some two decades. Much of the profits made on them go towards loyalty funds for the leader or the Party, or are also used to fund special provisions that are handed out to people under Kim Jong Uns name. 

The basic operation within North Koreas fisheries industry centers on fisheries business units. The Party, military, and Cabinet each run their own units. Directly under the Workers Party is the fisheries export unit, which is operated by the Daesung General Bureau (trade company), and in terms of the military, each corps runs a no. 18 fisheries business unit. There are also regional fisheries units, which are operated by the peoples economic arm of the Cabinet. 

What is most notable about the recent mandate is the idea of supplying more for the military. 

The fish that are caught by military units and the export units under the Daesung General Bureau are all supplied to the rear services of the Peoples Armed Forces, she explained. Officials that have been dispatched by the Armed Forces to each fisheries unit allocate which supplies should go to what military base. 

All of the dried squid, frozen small octopus, king crabs, shrimp, and other shellfish caught in the East Sea, as well as blue crab and other fisheries from the West Sea used to go to China, but now theyre all being sent to military bases, according to the source, who added that Party cadres there have been saying, Its good to smell fish in the air again and have welcomed this move.

Other fisheries units that fall under the Cabinet are busy distributing the marine goods at general markets. The export processing businesses that had earned in foreign currency from China are now turning to local markets to make money, she asserted. Refrigerated trucks that all used to head to the border customs office are now making their way towards Pyongyang, Pyongsong, and Sariwon. 

In terms of why the Kim regime has enforced this fresh directive, divergent opinions are making the rounds. 

Some speculate that the state coffers may have relatively more resources than in the past. The yuan that Pyongyang usually rakes in from China through fisheries exports is by no means insignificant. Estimates from the Souths Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency [KOTRA]s North Korea Trade Status 2014 indicates it sees over 1 billion USD brought in from China just from fisheries. 

Especially supplies from military corps fisheries units and export units under Daesung are all related to providing for Party funds. 

Although most of the money made by corps fisheries units, which all run under the same name of no.18 fisheries units, goes towards funds for self-sufficient operation, part of the profits are set aside for loyalty funds that are offered up on the birthdays of former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. 

Meanwhile, Daesung General Bureau is directly operated by the Party and acts as a channel for foreign currency earning. It runs one fisheries export unit each near the West and East Sea, and all gains are circulated back to Office No. 39 at the Party. 

Given this, it would be hard for Kim Jong Un to carry out a measure as drastic as this ban unless he had confidence about his personal and Party funds, the source surmised. 

On the other hand, others speculate the leadership could be carrying out a policy of supply for its people in order to win back support. However, this simple approach of feeding people a lot of fish is only one that would have worked back in the 90s, according to the source. 

The Marshal has for many years now been touring military bases and emphasizing the issue of food supply for soldiers, but nothing has changed much, the source said. He also gave dozens of fishing boats to fisheries business units as a gift, but all of the marine goods would just be shipped off for exports." 

The response to this fisheries windfall is also starkly different between potential recipients of the fish and those in the fisheries industry, she said, noting, Some military cadre are welcoming the move saying regular soldiers and their families will be able to get their hands on luxury fish that were even hard to spot in the past, but cadre at fisheries units are not pleased at all. 

The fish supplied to the military bases are already making their way to general markets. Fish are expensive at general markets, so some military cadres are using the supply to resell them. 

With the added volume rerouted from military bases to the marketplace, general markets that already have more frozen fish that were once designated for exports are seeing fish prices nosedive.

Even the high-end marine goods that were so expensive that only Party cadres could afford them have become accessible to most people, she concluded.

*Translated by Jiyeon Lee

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