Instead of sanctioning both caught vessels, the Korean government stopped the prosecution and allowed the vessels to sell the illegal goods on the international market.
The two fishing vessels Southern Ocean and Hong-Jin 701, both owned by the Hong-Jin company, violated conservation measures of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
The vessels were found fishing illegally for four days, having caught 70 tones of tooth-fish despite receiving a fisheries closure notification from the secretariat of the UN Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
According to EJF, the vessels are authorized to export to the EU and US, raising the prospect that their illegal catch may have found its way to European and American consumers.
Yet, many were the NGOs that criticised the Korean government, such as EJF, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), the Citizen's Institutes for Environmental Studies (CIES) and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM).
The NGOs highlighted that the suspension was applied during a non-fishing period in CCAMLR, meaning it had little or no impact on the operator.
The illegal catch was returned to the vessels’ operator who went on to sell it for more than $800,000, despite assurances to international partners.
Subsequently, in addition to the failed sanctions, the Korean Prosecutors Office did not take forward criminal prosecution of the case.
CCAMLR officially classified the two fishing vessels as 'Non-Compliance Level 3', meaning 'Seriously, Frequently or Persistently non-compliant'. Although this is a crucial warning, the next step would be the ban of the fishing vessels along the CCAMLR area.
Concluding, according to the NGOs
Contrary to what the Korean government announced internationally, Korean officials allowed the IUU-caught fish to enter not only Korea but also the international market. Even worse, the government is claiming that they are not aware of its destination. This incident reveals how legal loopholes and un-transparent fishery governance can be exploited.