Seoul Conference Highlights Working Conditions of Migrant Fishermen on Korean Fishing Boats

Migrants Rights, Migration Research

Seoul – The Republic of Korea (ROK) is the world’s 12th largest fishing nation. In 2015, its fishery and aquaculture production, at 1.64 million tons, was worth USD 4.4 billion. But while the industry continues to grow, the number of Korean fishermen has decreased due to difficult working conditions and low pay.

In the early 1990s, the industry started to employ migrant workers, mainly from Viet Nam, Indonesia and the Philippines. By 2015 they accounted for 40 per cent of the industry’s total workforce. Reports of human rights abuses in the industry triggered a two-year investigation between 2014 – 2016 by IOM ROK and Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL).

The IOM / APIL team conducted research in the ROK and the countries of origin and uncovered various human rights violations detailed in their report: Tied at Sea: Human Rights Violations of Migrant Workers on Korean Fishing Vessels (

This week (5/9) three members of the Korean National Assembly co-hosted a conference in Seoul organized by IOM ROK, APIL and the Human Rights Network for Migrant Fishermen to discuss the report’s recommendations.

The conference on Working Conditions of Migrant Fishermen on Korean Fishing Vessels attracted 110 delegates including government officials from relevant ministries, representatives of fisheries associations, labour unions, civil society organizations, the private sector, media and the general public.

The report recommended that officials from the Ministries of Oceans and Fisheries, Employment and Labour, Justice, and National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives, should improve coordination and work together to ensure an ethical recruitment process to improve working conditions for migrant fishermen.

“Despite existing national efforts in building measures to protect migrant workers, migrant fishermen on Korean-flagged fishing vessels are especially vulnerable to labour exploitation as their working conditions often fall outside the scope of the Labour Standards Act,” said IOM ROK Head of Office Miah Park.

“This event raised public awareness of the situation of migrant seafarers and hopefully encouraged policymakers to take action to improve it. IOM plans to continue to support responsible stakeholders in establishing fair and ethical recruitment practices in Korean fishing industry,” she added.

The conference followed an earlier Regional Conference on Ethical Recruitment of Migrant Fishermen Working in Fishing Industry organized by IOM ROK in 2016, which brought together government officials from Indonesia, Viet Nam, the Philippines and South Korea to discuss policy gaps and gather recommendations.

For more information, please contact IOM ROK. Jumi Kim, Tel: +82 70 4820 0292, Email: or Doyen Yun, Tel: +82 70 4820 2324, Email:

  • Indonesian seamen aboard a Korean-flagged fishing vessel. Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM) / APIL