Many would have heard of K-Pop and K-beauty, but have you heard about K-FISH? Seaweed, tuna and sushi are frequently enjoyed seafood, but readers may be unaware of the international popularity of Korea’s marine products. Seaweed, tuna, oysters, fish cakes, abalone, sea cucumbers, red crabs and dried seaweed are just a few of the main products of K-FISH that are not only enjoyed domestically but also exported to several international countries. As a reminder of the importance of the sea industry and in celebration of Marine Day on May 31, The Argus looks into K-FISH marine products’ success, reasons and further development.
What is K-FISH?
K-FISH is a consolidated brand of seafood created to achieve global competitiveness and lead improving the quality of Korea’s seafood. Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) gathers companies to be a part of the seafood brand. For companies to be a part of the brand, K-FISH, they must go through an application process and quality inspection of areas such as sanitation, disease prevention, production facility quality management and more. After the final evaluation and post license monitoring, a company may be registered as a part of K-FISH. The MOF had compiled US$2.38 billion of earning of K-FISH in 2018 and aims to achieve US$2.5 billion in 2019.
Noteworthy K-FISH products
Tuna, number one seafood revenue generator
Tuna is also called the chicken of the sea for its similarity in taste of chicken. The tuna exported from Korea also has a high demand because of its nutritional values. In particular, the processed canned tuna which is more convenient to consume and has only minor differences in nutrients makes it a “healthy easy food.” Although tunas are difficult to catch in the seas of Korea, Korea’s greatest seafood revenue is made from tuna exports.
The Overseas Market Research Center organized by the Korea Maritime Institute stated that Korea’s number one export revenue is tuna, and Korea exports 10 percent of the tuna traded in the world. The Korea Trade Statistics Promotion Institute announced that exports of tuna reached US$617.68 million in 2018.
Kim Il-gyu, head of public relations office in Dongwon Group, Korea’s number one canned tuna production company, stated that “Owning one of the world’s best tuna fishing fleet and leading tuna technology, Dongwon Group catches the largest amounts of bonitos, a type of tuna, in the world. In addition Dongwon harvests bluefin, big-eyed and yellowfin tuna. Dongwon Group possesser high quality equipment to preserve its tuna that it would not cause any damage. Also fishing boats are equipped with cooling facilities that preserve cool tuna.”
Gim, Korea’s World’s best export to the world
Gim, also called “Haetae” for its’ similar appearance to a rock by the sea, is also called “laver” in English and “Asakumanori” in Japanese. As sales of Korean laver increase, the name of laver in the global market is also changing and is more commonly going by the name “gim.”
There are two types of gim exported: seasoned and dried. Seasoned gim is made with mixed oil and salt and is seasoned and baked; gim is often consumed as a side dish. Seasoned seaweed is drawing attention in countries such as China and Russia with trends in food consumption to improve living standards. Dried gim is marinated and eaten as a dry side dish but is gaining large popularity in Japan because of its use in sushi.
Cho Seo-la, a Korean-Japanese student majoring in International Studies said, “The general market sells Korean gim and it is easy to find Korean gim used in triangle kimbap in convenient stores.”
The Korea Laver Association recorded a revenue of more than US$525 million in 2018, which is a 2.4 percent increase from 2017, when the country gim’s revenue recorded about US$513 million. Korea Argo-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation confirmed that Korea exported gim to 102 countries in 2018, with 22.4 percent to Japan, 18.1 percent to the United States and 16 percent exported to China.
Fishcake, open possibility for large growth
Fiskcake, omuk in Korean, is a processed seafood product made of ground white fish and ingredients, such as potato starch, sugar and vegetables. In South Korea, fish cake is one of the most popular street foods and is also enjoyed as a side dish and in soup.
The growth of the fish cake market also leads to economic development. According to the MOF, the fishcake industry showed remarkable results in job creation as there were only 6,500 employees in 2007 which soared 73 percent to 11,300 employees in 2016. Also, the nation’s export of fish cakes jumped 2.6-fold from US$22 million in 2008 to US$57 million in 2017. In particular, exports of fish sausages, exports surged by a factor of 308 from US$70 thousand and US$21,567 thousand in 2017.
Previously, fish cakes were commonly consumed as a side dish; however, the fishcake market expanded and created small varieties of other types of fish cakes, such as premium or healthy fish cakes, as consumers’ interest and demand for fishcakes have increased recently. Green Village, a brand specializing in healthy food, will introduce new kinds of fish cakes, such as crab meat and vegetables sausages in line with the trend.
Why is K-FISH so special?
Government’s assistance: gained reliability from strict inspection
The government’s help is playing a large role when it comes to the success of K-FISH. To secure the safety and ensure the reliability of Korean seafood, the MOF is strictly managing a seafood traceability system. Since 2008 The National Fishery Products Quality Management Service has implemented the seafood traceability system to record and manage the history of information including production, processing, distributions and sales of domestic fishery products so that consumers choices can be ensured.
The attached barcode on the fishery products has been applied to help consumers to know where, when and through which distributors the products are being sold. By using an application and checking the distribution history, consumers can see the history of marine products.
The system implemented to provide safe food for consumers has shown achievements as gim produced in Korea is recognized for its’ high quality in the global market and acknowledged for its a clean production environment and excellent processing technology. In the “Report on Consumer Status of Marine Products in Major Countries_Germany” (2018) published by the MOF, the number one reason for buying and consuming Korean fishery products was for “quality (hygiene and freshness),” which was chosen by 24.5 percent of those surveyed. Korea tries to enhance the international competitiveness of its domestic fishery products by abiding to the international standards in terms of sanitation.
Environmental advantage: appropriate geographic characteristics
As a peninsula, Korea being surrounded by water on three sides has created a unique nest for various marine animals to live.
First, the East Sea is where the cold current flowing from the north and the warm current flowing from the south intersects. When the two currents meet, the cold current with high density moves down the turbulence, creating an environment where water’s dissolved oxygen content increases and plankton becomes abundant. The active circulation of plankton creates a rich and nutritional region that is a well-suited habitat for a diverse range of fish.
Next, the Yellow Sea is globally well known for its large gap of ebb and flood. Due to the large changes in tides, there is a tideland marsh that has abundant seashells and octopuses.
Finally, the south sea of Korea is advantageous for farming for its large numbers of cape and bay.
In addition, according to Statistics Korea (KOSTAT), the fishery production marked 3,743 thousand tons in 2017, which increased by 14.5 percent from 3,269 thousand tons in 2016. The fishery production of “Coastal and Offshore Fisheries” showed an increase due to rising resources of warm current fish species, which was caused by higher water temperatures in coastal and offshore waters. The fishery production of “Shallow Sea Aquaculture” showed an increase due to the expanded production capacity of shellfish and seaweed and a favorable trend in aquaculture.
In which direction should we go now?
The MOF is further investing in research and development to reflect the global food market trends such as healthy and tailored premium products. The MOF is planning to develop new products and carry out specific marketing to achieve more than US$100 million in exported items such as seaweed, tuna, abalone, oyster and fish cakes. The MOF is focusing on tailoring products for customers overseas.
Song Min-young from the Department of Hindi ‘17 said, “Recently I went to Insa-dong and was surprised to see a variety of new flavors of gim such as green tea, kimchi, chocolate and more.” In Korea, gim is often consumed as a side dish in main meals. However, overseas it is better known as a healthy snack. The size of the gim snack market reached US$93 million as of 2012, with annual growth recording 20 percent.
Park Jung-in, the assistant manager of the promotion team at Samjin Food, number one fishcake preduction company in Korea, said “The reason that sushi, one of the most popular Japanese food, was successful in the world market was because not only did it sell sushi, but it also created a settle sushi culture. Just as fishcake bakery products have changed the perception of fishcakes, fishcakes have the potential to settle into a culture. Although fishcakes are a processed food, Samjin Food will work for fishcakes to become a part of a consumption culture such as bread and coffee.”
Achieving environmental longevity
The Korea Fisheries Resources Agency strives for sustainable use of marine resources and works to maintain a healthy and rich fishing grounds. The Korea Fisheries Resources Agency is creating a coastal marine ranch that is a project to create a model of a sea ranch suitable for the characteristics of each area. The agency plans to promote the production of fishery resources and revitalization of the local economy through the creation of resources for coastal fisheries. In 2006, it settled in four cities of Gangneung, Gunsan, Geoje and Seo-gwi-po and by 2020 plans to settle in a total of 50 potential locations.
There is a necessity for ocean and seashore reforestation projects to reduce excessive pollutants flowing into coastal waters. Also, it is important to enhance the effectiveness of ocean reforestation by exploring new types of marine plants that can adapt to the rising sea temperature caused from the global climate change. For example, the artificial reef projects are man-made structures placed in the sea to attract, protect, and cultivate marine organisms. That is one of the main methods of creating marine resources, utilizing the environment and characteristics of marine life.
Raising awareness through advertisements
The Korea Fisheries Association is promoting for an export marketing, national brand creation and management, and supporting the acquisition of international certification in order to explore overseas markets for Korean fishery products. K-FISH’s brand and product promotion videos are translated into various languages, and K-FISH also features in promotional videos during commemoration of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Moreover, the MOF is trying to widen the scope of opportunities for overseas consumers to directly consume Korean fishery products. On Aug. 23, 2018, MOF launched a snack sets consisting of fish cakes, soft drinks and popcorn at 10 of the Chinese movie theaters (CGV). In particular, the MOF is planning to increase recognition of fish cakes through discount events and advertisements in CGV. The MOF plans to promote Korean fishery products in a variety of other ways, including participating in the Singapore beer festival as “gim-mac,” seaweed and beer in Korean, and linking them to overseas Korean restaurants.
Ariel was constantly unsatisfied with the ocean she was living in, and her friend Sebastian the crab was trying to tell her that the seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake. A lot of people say that Korea is a country without any natural resources; however, natural resources are not always minerals and oils but can also be marine products. Korea’s oceans are filled with a diverse range of marine animals that have been one of our main sources of food for the past few centuries. Sometimes we forget to be thankful for what we are given, and take things for granted because Korea’s seaweed may look greener from somebody’s else sea.
By Jang Soo-hyun
Staff Reporter of Global & National Section