The Yomiuri ShimbunWith the full-scale squid fishing season starting in June in the sea around Japan, the Fisheries Agency is planning to beef up its measures against armed boats — including by bulletproofing its fishing patrol vessels.
A gun was aimed at one of the Agnecy’s patrol vessels by a boat believed to be North Korean off Ishikawa Prefecture in July last year.
Threat from rifles
Many wooden fishing boats with North Korean flags have been spotted about 300 kilometers northwest of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture since 2016. The area, called Yamatotai, is a good fishing ground for squid and crabs. It is located within Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
At about 5:55 p.m. on July 7 last year, a powered rubber raft suddenly approached the rear left of one of the agency’s vessels patrolling the area. A man on the raft was holding an automatic rifle, leading to a sudden rise in tensions.
The patrol vessel attempted to leave the scene, but the raft kept harassing it for about 50 minutes, such as by cruising around it.
The raft was later confirmed by radar to have been picked up by a 200-ton-class steel vessel sailing several kilometers away. The raft had no national flag and ship name, but the agency believes it was North Korean based on the shape and other factors.
“North Korea treats its fishing industry as a national policy, and many fishing boats are expected to come to Japan this year as well,” a source close to the matter said, adding that “armed boats could possibly infiltrate [Japan’s waters] along with those fishing boats in the future.”
Aggressive behavior seen
A record 5,191 exclusion alerts were issued by the fisheries agency against foreign ships operating illegally in Japan’s EEZ last year. The agency works with the Japan Coast Guard to eject the boats by shooting water at them.
The agency possesses 44 patrol vessels. Takaaki Hashimoto is the captain of one of them — the 2,000-ton Toko Maru. “The number of illegal fishing boats overwhelms the number of our ships. I paid close attention so as to collectively drive them out of the EEZ.”
If a fishing boat does not comply with the warnings, the agency deploys a larger vessel to pressure them from as close as about 20 meters. People on the fishing boats sometimes throw coal and other objects at the vessel, according to the agency.
Better night vision eyed
A senior agency official said, “In our routine patrols, we didn’t expect to see so many fishing boats operating illegally.”
The agency plans to gradually bulletproof the bridges of its ships. Currently, only some are bulletproof. It also plans to enhance its night-vision camera equipment for night operations.
The agency is also considering having its fishery enforcement officers, who crack down on illegal fishing, added to the list of personnel who are compensated for accidents in the line of special duty.
Currently, only personnel with dangerous professions, such as police and JCG officers, are listed. The compensation for deaths and injuries in the line of duty is up to 1.5 times more than regular compensation. The agency plans to ask the National Personnel Authority to revise its rules.
A Japan Squid Fisheries Association spokesperson said: “Foreign fishing boats operating illegally usually drag a 1-kilometer-long net to catch fish, meaning Japanese ships cannot get close to the fishing ground due to concerns of an accident. We want authorities to strengthen security to immediately get rid of those fishing boats.” Speech