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U.S., South Korea Reach Tentative Agreement On Drift Net Treaty

September 8, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. and South Korean negotiators reached tentative agreement early today on a North Pacific fishing treaty, heading off a confrontation that could have led to a ban on South Korean fisheries products.

Ed Wolfe, the State Department’s ambassador for oceans and fisheries, said the agreement would be initialed after both sides reviewed the final text. Before it could go into force, both nations will have to formally sign it.

Under the agreement, U.S. enforcement officers will have ″unrestricted authority″ to board and inspect Korean drift net vessels to search for evidence of illegal fishing and all Korean drift net vessels will have to be equipped with satellite transponders by the 1990 fishing season, Wolfe said.

The transponders will allow U.S. officials to keep track of the location of the Korean vessels to ensure they don’t fish outside of designated drift net fishing areas.

The agreeement also calls for scientific monitoring of the Korean fleet and will allow the Koreans to fish in an expanded area in the North Pacific during the month of May.

President Bush warned the Koreans two weeks ago that they faced a possible ban on shipments of their fishery products to the United States if they hadn’t reached an agreement by the end of September.

Drift net treaties were earlier negotiated with Japan and Taiwan.

Wolfe said the State Department was satisfied with the tentative pact with the Koreans and talks with the Koreans had been ″more difficult″ than those he conducted with the Japanese and Taiwanese.

More than 700 driftnet vessels from Japan, Taiwan and Korea have been using drift nets in the North Pacific ostensibly to catch squid. But U.S. fishing groups have claimed the vessels are actually fishing for North American salmon and that runs in Alaska, Washington state and Oregon have already suffered as a result of the illegal catch.

Environmentalists, who call the nets ″walls of death,″ have said their use results in the deaths of thousands of marine mammals and seabirds annually.

The lighweight, monofilament nets can stretch for more than 30 miles and hang in the water snaring any animal they come in contact with. On any given day, the nets can cover an estimated 30,000 miles of ocean.

Congressional reaction to the Korean agreement was guarded.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, said he was satisfied with the treaty’s enforcement provisions, but was critical of the expanded fishing zone for Korean vessels in May and the scientific observer program.

″All these countries ought to be held to the same standard, and that should be as rigid as necessary to protect our interests,″ said Murkowski.

Rep. Jolene Unsoeld, D-Wash., who has introduced legislation calling for an international ban on the use of drift nets, said ″it’s important to remember that these are just monitoring agreements. The drift net fleets will continue intercepting our salmon and indiscriminately slaughtering the world’s marine life.

″We will just have a little better idea of the extent they are doing that.″

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