South Korea may join high seas drift net enforcement

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- South Korea's ambassador says the country will probably join an international group that coordinates enforcement of a high seas ban on drift net fishing for salmon, according to Alaska Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.

Ulmer, president of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, met with Ambassador Sung Chul Yang on Thursday.

''The Korean ambassador said he had good news -- that the official policy of the Korean government had changed,'' Ulmer told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Ulmer said she hopes South Korea will become a commission member before the October annual meeting in Victoria, British Columbia. Current commission members include Japan, Russia, the United States and Canada.

The commission coordinates enforcement flights and cruises by member nations whose salmon use the North Pacific region covered by the high seas drift net ban. That area includes all water north of 33 degrees and more than 200 miles from shore.

Korea has in the past declined to join, citing the cost, the relatively small numbers of salmon spawning in its rivers and the country's struggling economy, Ulmer said. She said she was not sure what prompted the nation's change in view.

Ulmer said member nations wanted Korea to join both because it has natural salmon runs and because several of the rogue vessels that have been caught have been Korean or had Koreans on board.

The ban on high seas drift nets applies only to the four countries that signed the 1992 Convention for the Conservation of Anadromous Stocks in the North Pacific Ocean. Member nations, though, agreed to try to discourage fishing by ships from other nations, according to the convention document.

Violations have steadily declined since the convention went into effect in 1993. Member nation ships that violate the law are forfeited by owners, Ulmer said.

High seas salmon fishing was outlawed by member countries because the enormous nets could decimate individual salmon stocks and because they caught large numbers of unwanted animals, Ulmer said. The convention prohibits any targeted salmon fishing in the area and bars vessels from keeping salmon taken while fishing for other species.

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