For the last two years, Fikir Sahibi Damaklar, one of Istanbul's convivia, has been raising awareness about the problems facing the resources of the Bosphorus, the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Here is the convivium's assessment of the 2011-2012 fishing season.
Though there is still no single ministry managing Turkish fisheries, lakes, rivers and seas and applying a unified policy, the Slow Food Fikir Sahibi Damaklar Convivium still believes that the establishment of the Fisheries and Aquaculture General Directorate in June 2011 was a hugely important achievement.
The General Directorate spent the first half of the season defining its organizational structure, and is now preparing for a Communication Meeting, to be held in 2012. The regulations of Law No. 1380 on "Fishery Products Trade and Fishing" will be discussed at this meeting together with fishing NGOs. Slow Food Fikir Sahibi Damaklar considers this to be an exciting opportunity.
Overfishing is the primary factor responsible for the depletion of resources. We have heard that fleet sizes will be decreased, with 200 boats voluntarily removed from the fleet with government support in 2012, and the total fleet reduced by 35 percent over the next three years. This raises our hopes that new policies will be established regarding the seas, fish and fishers.
In August 2011, the ministry announced an amendment raising the minimum size for bluefish from 14 cm to 20 cm. Though this does not reach the 24 cm requested by Fikir Sahibi Damaklar, it is a significant first step. The convivium has been running a successful campaign, "Save the Sultan of Fish," asking consumers not to buy lüfer, as bluefish are called in Turkey, under 24 cm. As part of the campaign, it has launched the Lüfer Feast, an annual celebration held in Istanbul on the third Saturday of October.
This celebration will contribute to increasing the public's awareness and understanding of the sea, fish and fishers and the need to protect nature. The opening of the celebration this year by Mehdi Eker, Turkey's Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, was a very positive sign and the convivium hopes that the ministry's support will continue over time.
In spite of this good news, many fish under the minimum length can still found on market stalls. Moreover, in November, scoop net fishermen in Istanbul protested against the change in bluefish fishing size. And they have good reason to protest. Istanbul's fishermen are facing a dead-end street, thanks to unsustainable policies that have focused solely on growth and expanding capacity since the 1980s.
According to Turkish marine environment protection association TURMEPA, 143 species in the Sea of Marmara are now extinct. Over the past 40 years, overfishing has led to stock reductions of 73 percent for red mullet, 48 percent for sea bream, 90 percent for bonito, 95 percent for mackerel, and 58 percent for bluefish. Stocks of many other species, including wrasse, red snapper, tuna, umbrine, dentex and scorpion fish, have decreased in the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.
Due to the change in fishing limits for bluefish, which is one of the few profitable fish to be found in these seas, the 2011-2012 fishing season did not go well for Istanbul's fishermen. Once again Turkish fishermen started the year in debt, as they have for the past five years. The most optimistic guess puts this total debt at 70-80 million TL, most of which is held by intermediate wholesalers rather than banks. Despite the ban and stricter controls, it is obvious that we are still seeing undersized bluefish at the markets because of the fishermen's financial crisis. The convivium believes fishermen find it impossible to clear their debts. Many fishermen in debt to middlemen from the Istanbul Yenikap Seafood Market Hall are taking big risks and fishing illegally just to pay their debts, yet will still finish the season without being able to pay them off.
Despite the fishermen's protest in November, it is very important that the Ministry does not reverse its action and sticks to its decision concerning bluefish. Yet the sea's sustainability cannot be maintained without also maintaining our fishermen's livelihoods. We cannot expect them to respect the law while under such financial pressure.
The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock and the Istanbul Departement of Fishing and Seafood have a duty to bring fair working conditions to fishermen in order to ensure the sustainability of our seas' resources.
In this context, the convivium asks the following from local authorities:
- In order to save Istanbul's fishermen from the pressure of their debts to middlemen, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality should immediately start helping fishermen to sell their fish via cooperatives in an organized way.
- Every fish sold at Istanbul's market stalls must display a label showing the legal fishing sizes, to allow municipal police to check whether the fish meet the size requirements.
- In order to allow Istanbul's citizens to help with the checks, a dedicated number should be provided for them to call the municipal police.
- Capacities and functionality of sewage treatment plants operating in Istanbul must be audited and their number must be increased in order to support the Marmara Sea's sea life.
We have the following expectations for the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock:
- The Law No. 1380 on Fishery Products must be assessed and reviewed by academics, policy makers and fishing NGOs, in collaboration with consumer NGOs which are sensitive the ecologic sustainability:
- Fishing size limits must be precautionary.
- Fishing fleets must be downsized.
- Fishing gear must be chosen based on sustainability criteria.
- Fishing bans must be increased, taking a protective approach.
- Penalties must serve as deterrents so that controls are functional.
- Reserve areas must be determined and increased.
- The importance of the Black Sea and the undersea meadows located at the mouth of rivers running into the sea, which are the destination of migratory fish, must be recognized. Its value must be assessed and future hydroelectric plants in these areas must be planned accordingly.
- The season for fish traps must be the same as the general fishing season. The fishing ban must be the same to allow stocks to renew themselves during the reproduction season.
- The ministry must stop considering fishermen and fish farmers to be the same players in the sector.
- Instead of just considering seafood as an area for growth and development, it must be governed following a policy of sustainability. This means traditional fishing must be supported, resources must be protected and the necessary support must be provided to let stocks renew themselves, instead of only supporting industrial fishing and increasing fishing capacity and technology.
Slow Food Fikir Sahibi Damaklar