Dongwon Industries has been accused of not only allowing one of its tuna purse seiners to fish illegally in Liberian waters, but then of sending fake letters to African governments stating it was legally licensed.
In a letter forwarded to Undercurrent News, the Republic of Liberia's Bureau of National Fisheries (BNF) warns that the vessel F/V Premier, licensed to Dongwon and under the flag of South Korea, is under investigation for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Liberian waters.
South Korean tuna giant Dongwon Industries is the parent company of US canned tuna giant Starkist, the largest shelf stable seafood company in the US.
As a result of the ongoing IUU case, several countries have denied the F/V Premier a fishing license. In an apparent bid to try and get around this, Dongwon has forwarded letters to African nation governments, implying that the IUU reports were a misunderstanding, and that the F/V Premier was legally licensed while in Liberian waters.
Two letters, sent to Kenya's government by Dongwon and apparently addressed from the Liberian authorities to South Korea, have been confirmed as forgeries.
“The Government of Liberia has not, and will not, release any communications that the F/V Premier is cleared of these offences until such time that the case has been settled here in Liberia,” reads the warning sent to Undercurrent's source.
“Until such time members of the international community should disregard any communications that supposedly indicate otherwise.”
The BNF also requests that any such documents are sent to them for further action.
The BNF has sent a letter to the deputy director of distant water fisheries division, Woojin Jun, informing him that no letters have been sent by Liberia to South Korea clearing the F/V Premier of wrongdoing.
In its letter, the BNF explains that the vessel was at no time legally licensed to fish in Liberian waters, despite being identified as doing so in 2011 and 2012. Instead, the purse seiner was carrying a “clear forgery of a Liberian fishing license”.
The letter goes on to request the South Korean government's cooperation in investigating Dongwon Industries.
Neither Dongwon Industries, Starkist or the Liberian government have replied to requests for comment from Undercurrent.
Dongwon F&B, the separately listed canned tuna distribution arm of Dongwon Industries, joined the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) amid some controversy in October 2012.
While Dongwon's fishing practices were the subject of a campaign by Greenpeace, and though it failed to produce any information for the NGO's canned tuna brand survey, the ISSF said that Dongwon F&B met the conservation standards set.
Dongwon Industries and Dongwon F&B are technically two separate companies, though their tuna businesses are vertically integrated and closely tied.
Starkist is held under Dongwon Industries. Late last year, the company axed In-soo Cho as Starkist CEO. Sam Hwi Lee, a former Nestle executive, is now the CEO of Starkist.