Kim Jong-un does, it's fair to say, have an obsession with fish. Barely a week goes past without a tour round a fish farm. Here he is earlier in the year: "Fish harvesters enjoy jolly banter with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un during field inspection at Fish Render Plant #37."
And just two weeks ago he was inspecting this KPA Fishery Station:
Noting the 5th anniversary of leader Kim Jong Il’s demise will be observed in a few days, Kim Jong Un said what comes across in his mind when he remembers Kim Jong Il whom he misses very much is the document on fish supply to the Pyongyang citizens signed by Kim Jong Il at night of the last day of his great life, adding he read the document several times that day, too, and visited the KPA fishery station as he thought that Kim Jong Il would be pleased if fish caught by the KPA would be sent to the Pyongyang citizens.
Going round various places of the station, he learned in detail about the progress made in its updating, fish catching, storage and supply.
Watching the employees working at the processing workshop, he indicated the tasks to put all the processing processes on a high streamlined and robotized basis and thus save manpower and strictly ensure hygiene.
Feasting his eyes on the bales of frozen fish piled up high, he said with a broad smile that he was very pleased and felt relieved of his pent-up fatigue after being told that 200 grams of fish can be supplied to each soldier every day until September next year with fish in storage.
Feeding the military is, of course, the key point here. Reports of malnourished troops are commonplace. The hopelessly inefficient farms are unlikely to be able to supply anything like sufficient protein for the unproductive mass of young soldiers who provide Kim's muscle. Fish are the obvious answer, especially from the sea - a limitless bounty, unaffected by socialist economics and five-year-plans.
So keen is the Young Marshal to harvest the fruits of the sea that he's launched a propaganda campaign to increase fish yields, and has even been claiming the credit for supposedly high catches. It's because of his "profound love for the people". His exploits mark a "new legend of fishing history." Though the people aren't seeing any of this:
On the East Sea coast, sailfin sandfish are normally captured in November every year. But the authorities are not providing the harvested fish to residents, save for propaganda purposes to limited areas of the floodstricken northeastern regions. The male fish are supplied to military bases and the female fish are all exported to China.
Needless to say, there's a dark side to all this.
Two weeks ago the Chosun Ilbo reported on the rescue by South Korean coastguards of some North Korean fishing boats adrift on the East Sea. Twelve fishermen were found starved to death on board. They'd apparently been at sea for up to three months. The eight survivors were later repatriated - with considerable difficulty, as the North Korean authorities seemed generally uninterested in the fate of their wretched compatriots.
This is not an isolated case. The Daily NK reports:
North Korean fishermen are often pushed beyond acceptable safety limits during fishing operations, under orders by the Kim Jong Un regime. An increasing number of residents are becoming upset at the regime's propaganda claims that the subsequent deaths of fishermen are ‘acts of loyalty,’ as family members of the missing can do little more than grieve at the dockside.
“More than 300 fishermen, who were forced into a 'fishing battle' following orders by the authorities to 'provide enough fish for 300 days a year,' have not yet returned. About 200 fishermen went missing or died during the squid season in June and another 100 fishermen are still missing from the sailfin sandfish season last month,” an official in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on December 28.
This report was revealed to Daily NK by a senior official working with an administrative department responsible for keeping track of the number of accidents and deaths that occur in each province.
"The actual number of missing or dead fishermen is assumed to be much more than what is reported, because there were dozens of day laborers as well as 6 or 7 crew members in each of the old small fishing boats dispatched to sea. The provincial administrative and Party bureaucrats are only interested in producing reports that highlight their 'loyalty' to the regime, and have little regard for rescue attempts for the fishermen at sea," the source noted.
"(The authorities) are not even making efforts to collect the bodies of the dead, let alone conduct a rescue operation during the 300-day push to catch as much fish as possible. The regime has only published one story in the state newspaper about 6 crew members in a stow-net fishing boat who died saving portraits of the Kim family while in the western sea," the source added.
"In recent days, the authorities have been repeating the story about those fishermen who allegedly died saving portraits of the Kim family during lectures for residents and students. People are resenting the regime's desire to emphasize the importance of the portraits over any effort to recover the bodies," said a source in South Hamgyong Province.
On December 22, the North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun published an article entitled "The loyalty of the dead fishermen will be eternally remembered under the red flag of the Workers' Party." It states that portraits of the Kim family were found in a box inscribed with the name of a boat from the western shores of Onchon, South Pyongan Province. The paper claimed that the dead fishermen are "loyalists" who died protecting the box until the end.
"On the east and west coasts, private carpenters build wooden ships of varying dimensions. But tens of thousands of these ships are known to have already sunk or gone missing due to mechanical breakdowns. The families of the missing fishermen are unable to request a rescue operation because the authorities are not receptive on the matter," a separate source in South Pyongan Province added.
"The families of the missing crew members have been waiting for the fishermen to return for months. They cannot hold funerals for the missing because they don't know if they are still alive, and they cannot even lodge a missing persons report because if they do, they are likely to be interrogated and monitored by State Security Department agents or Ministry of People’s Security officials, accusing the missing of having tried to 'escape’.”