Seoul – South Korea’s largest tuna brand, Dongwon Industries, is facing criminal charges in Africa for forging government documents as well as penalties for its illegal fishing activities in African waters. In response, Greenpeace is calling on the South Korean government to call the company home, investigate the ship’s activities and prosecute as necessary to prevent a repeat.
A Dongwon-owned purse seine tuna fishing vessel, F/V Premier, was caught using a fake fishing licence in Liberia in 2011 and 2012. The company then sent a letter, forged to appear from the Liberian Bureau of National Fisheries, to the South Korean government that implied the allegation of illegal fishing was a misunderstanding. The same forged letter was also sent to African governments seeking new fishing licences for the Premier.
The government of Liberia has now formally sent a request to the South Korean government to investigate the Premier for its violations. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s East African and South-West Indian Ocean grouping of eight countries have already refused the vessel from fishing in their waters. The United Kingdom and European Union also issued a warning against the entry of illegally caught fish into their respective territories.
“The South Korean government should call Dongwon’s ship back to port for a thorough investigation, showing that we take allegations of illegal fishing seriously. Behaviour at sea like this puts Korea’s reputation in a very bad light,” said Han Jeonghee, Greenpeace East Asia Oceans Campaigner. “The Korean government and the impacted African countries must punish Dongwon for its crimes.”
Under South Korean law, a vessel caught fishing illegally can have its licence revoked, and in the case of repeated offence, its highest executive can face up to 3 years in jail and millions in penalties.
Dongwon Industries has more than a 50% market share on canned tuna in South Korea. It also owns the biggest US tuna brand StarKist. Dongwon Industries has a history of illegal fishing and ranked at the bottom of Greenpeace’s South Korean sustainable tuna guide last year.
“StarKist will clearly do anything to make a profit, whether it’s faking official documents or slaughtering tens of thousands of sharks, turtles, and other animals through its unsustainable fishing practices. Consumers deserve better than this,” said Casson Trenor, Greenpeace USA’s Senior Seafood Markets Campaigner.
Greenpeace is campaigning for the South Korean government and tuna industry to abandon destructive fishing methods, reduce industrial fishing capacity, and to support a global network of marine reserves covering 40% of the world’s oceans. These are all necessary steps to restoring our oceans to health and to maintaining living oceans and ample fish for future generations.
These troubles come on the heels of a lawsuit recently filed in California that accuses StarKist of fraud for misrepresenting the amount of tuna in its products.