Systèmes Ingénieux du Patrimoine Agricole Mondial (SIPAM)

Jeju Haenyeo Fisheries System, Republic of Korea

GIAHS since 2023


Detailed Information



Food and livelihood security

Jeju haenyeo have always been able to achieve food and livelihood security through the ecological circulation between fishing and farming. Jeju Island is mostly covered with infertile soil. For this geographical reason, Jeju people have traditionally cultivated crops such as millet and barley, which grow well in dry fields, instead of rice, as they have a greater potential to support the population. Importantly, an ecological circulation takes place between Jeju haenyeo’s fishing and farming. This is confirmed by the fact that they use seaweed as a fertilizer to grow their staple crops of barley and millet.

The soil of Jeju Island does not allow Jeju haenyeo to cultivate sufficient food. For this reason, the Jeju haenyeo have always relied on the wealth the sea could offer to make up for the lack of food. By diving, Jeju Haenyeo collect more than 20 varieties of seafood used as food ingredients or sold to make a living. Since the 1960s, Jeju haenyeo have managed to maintain a stable livelihood through policy and institutional efforts to dynamically conserve their fishing profession.


The core biological resources for Jeju haenyeo are classified into three categories. The first is mollusks, the second echinoderms, and the third marine algae. Mollusks include horned turban, disk abalone, and colored abalone. Echinoderms include sea urchin and sea cucumber. And, marine algae include agar-agar, hijiki, sweet laver, and sea mustard. In addition, the village fishing grounds of Jeju Island are better preserved than other sea areas and its aquatic environment is in good condition, so they are rich in vegetation and biodiversity. About 522 seaweed species, or 70% of the total seaweed species found in Korea, inhabit Jeju’s coast.

The village fishing grounds also provide habitat for indigenous marine species protected by law that the Ministry of Environment designates. Of the protected wildlife, 28 species use the ocean as their main habitat. Twenty-two out of 25 invertebrate species live in Jeju fishing villages and four fish and mammal species migrate through the Jeju coast. All endangered species except one inhabit the coast of Jeju, so Jeju fishing grounds are very important in terms of biodiversity.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

Understanding and knowing natural phenomena such as tide changes, wind types, and fishing grounds are key for Jeju haenyeo. Jeju haenyeo must have knowledge of natural phenomena such as understanding the direction of the winds, the tides with regular rising and falling sea levels due to the gravity of the moon and the sun, and the sea currents to be able to collect seafood but also to keep themselves safe.

Jeju Haenyeo’s diving work employs nature-friendly collection skills and is closely related to the sustainability of the marine ecosystem. This is confirmed through their knowledge of the spawning period and growth status of marine species. Traditionally, Jeju haenyeo have decided on when to ban or permit seafood gathering based on the types of seafood to allow their conservation.

Last but not least, free diving skills and their transmission is a paramount feature and unique quality of Jeju Haenyeo. Collaborative diving sessions and knowledge sharing is a key aspect of this system that has allowed women to learn, grow and thrive to sustain a whole community.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

Jeju haenyeo learn this principle of social operation from their own life experiences, and through this, they have established social values that pursue co-prosperity between individuals and the community. The Jeju haenyeo community is a thoroughly meritocratic society, but at the same time, it is a communitarian society that cares about less competent members. For this reason, even those haenyeo who lack work capabilities remain thoroughly wary of overfishing. This implies that the core value of the culture, value system, and social organization of Jeju haenyeo is the co-prosperity of the community, which has been the driving force behind their continued knowledge system that has sustained the marine ecosystem.

Haenyeo’s symbol and culture is visible through the language, the food and folk culture. Winds can be defined through a wealth of different terminologies that correspond to specific features that only Haenyeo know. Songs, and shamanic beliefs are a key part Haenyeos’ life and spirituality as they ask for good harvests and calm waters.

Landscapes and waterscapes features

The landscape and seascape of the Jeju Haenyeo Fisheries System are the representational landscapes of the culture, value system, and social organization of Jeju haenyeo. Above all, the island’s seascape consists of the everyday scenes of Jeju’s fishing villages created by haenyeo, where haenyeo collect hijiki in pairs along the coast and jointly sell the seaweed after drying it.

Jeju’s unique cultural landscape arises from the unique geographical characteristics of the volcanic island and the formation of its land. The cultural landscape of village fishing grounds of Jeju Island can be divided into three categories according to vision range. The long-distance landscape that connects Mt. Hallasan from afar to the horizon of the ocean, the middle-distance landscape that displays small villages huddled together with Mt. Hallasan in the background, and the short-distance landscape starting from the fishing grounds to the coast.