Korean waters comprise some of the best fishing grounds in the world. The Sea of Japan / East Sea off the east coast provides deep-sea fishing with an average water depth of 1,700 m (5,600 ft). Warm and cold water alternate each season; the area is known for its Alaskan pollack, cod, squid, king crab, hairing crab, turban shell, and abalone. Off the west coast, the Yellow Sea has an average depth of 44 m (144 ft); major species include corker, hairtail, mackerel, surf clam, large clam abalone, lobster, Japanese paste shrimp, and blue crab. Off the south coast, the warm Pacific Ocean currents move towards the northeast, bringing diverse species such as anchovy, mackerel, oyster, mussels, shellfish, octopus, beka squid, laver, and sea mustard.
Industrialization and urbanization have led to a dramatic reduction in the number of families directly involved with fishing; from 1980 to 2000, the number of fishing families declined from 157,000 to 82,000. The fishing fleet consisted of 94,935 vessels in 2000, of which 568 were deep-sea vessels.
According to the government, the total catch in 2001 was 2,665,123 tons. Mackerel and anchovies account for about half the coastal fish landings; oysters are the principal aquacultural species; Alaskan pollack and tuna provide 80% of the deep-sea fish catch. Korean fishing bases have been established in Western Samoa and Las Palmas, and cuttlefish caught in waters off the Falkland Islands are now available. Since the declaration of 200 mi economic sea zones by many nations in the 1970s, the ROK negotiated fishing agreements with several coastal nations to secure fishing rights in their waters. Seaweed is another important aquacultural product, with 427,117 tons harvested in 2001.
The ROK exports seafood to about 65 countries throughout the world. Fisheries exports typically include tuna, shellfish, frozen/canned products, and seaweed. Japan is the largest destination for exports, annually accounting for about 75% of ROK seafood exports by value. In 2001, fisheries exports were valued at $1,273,619,000. Fresh, chilled, and frozen fish accounted for 67% of the value; smoked, dried, and salted fish, 8%; canned fish, 18%; and other products, 7%. The rate of fish consumption in the ROK was 33 kg (73 lb) per person in 2001. Although domestic consumption is still largely tied to local production, the ROK imported $1,648,372,000 of fish products in 2001. Major suppliers were Russia, the United States, China, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, and Japan.