Overfishing, pollution, destructive fishing practices ‘leave Turkish seas bare’

Overfishing, pollution, destructive fishing practices ‘leave Turkish seas bare’

Cansu Şimşek – ISTANBUL
Overfishing, pollution, destructive fishing practices ‘leave Turkish seas bare’

A once-rich fishing ground, Turkish seas have seen a sharp decline in fish production, the result of overfishing, environmental factors and destructive fishing practices, according to experts, fishermen and restaurant owners.

The most radical solution to the situation comes from Turkey’s “Slow Food Movement” representative and ecology activist Defne Koryürek, who proposes a “fishing ban for at least five years like abroad.”

“The seas are tired and authorities should ban fishing for a while. When we discussed this issue in 2009, we spoke of a two-year ban, but now the seas need to be rested for at least five years. This is one step. Another involves asking what small-sized fishermen will do during that period. This is where we need state policy,” she said.

If given a magic wand to fix the problem herself, Koryürek said she would ban fishing on the Bosporus and Dardanelles Strait forever, since they are “ecological corridors.”

“These areas are birth corridors where many species of fish reproduce. If we protect them, a double, chain-wide recovery will take place,” Koryürek said.

Environmental factors have also contributed to depleting fish stock in Turkish waters, according to Koryürek. “Anchovies have disappeared. Why? Because the sea waters are no longer cold. And why is that? Russians have built a dam on the Dnieper River [one of the major rivers in Europe flowing through Russia] and we have covered everywhere with hydroelectric power plants. Waste comes not only from the Danube River [Europe’s second-longest river] but also from industry in the Marmara region, and all this waste ends up in the Black Sea. The fish cannot live in such conditions,” Koryürek told daily Hürriyet.

Koryürek’s proposal comes after a series of brainstorming sessions in Turkey undertaken by experts, fishermen, and seamen, aiming to answer the question: “Why are there no fish in the seas?” The size of the fish has become smaller and the prices have soared, fishermen warn. Statistics provided by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) also show that seas need protection as figures point to a 50-percent decrease in the number of fish species in Turkish seas over the last 15 years.

Istanbul University Faculty of Aquaculture Dean Prof. Dr. Meriç Albay told daily Hürriyet that the main problem was an “unsystematic fishing model” and a “lack of inspections.” “Our fishermen just live for the day. We need to learn about the concept of scientific fishing,” he said.

“There is an absence of data regarding fish numbers. Only the number of fish that is caught and enters the fish market is known. But some fish does not enter the fish market straightaway. Some restaurants buy fish that is frozen during a period of overfishing and then released into the market a few months later. We do not know how these factors affect the seas. Nor do we known how much fish stock remains. Marmara Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Aegean Sea… All of them are in bad situations,” Albay said.

“Anybody can fish freely in our seas. Net measurements and types that ought to be restricted are used, and small-sized fish that should not be caught are hauled… Our fishermen use equipment that is quite modern, but they act under the principle of ‘fish as much as you can.’ There should be rules to set limits on the use of certain types of equipment,” he said.

The renowned professor said the authority to inspect fishermen belonged to coast guard patrols, gendarmeries, and provincial directorates of agriculture, but that inspections were “inadequate” as aquaculture engineers were absent from the control mechanism.

“There are 15 departments of aquaculture in Turkey and thousands of aquaculture engineers have graduated from these faculties. But since they have not been employed, they are completely out-of-sync with what is actually happening in seas, fish markets and fishing ports,” Albay said, adding that if teams specializing in aquaculture engineering were integrated into the system, the seas might “take a turn for the better” in three to five years.

Albay also said Turkey needed to assign more importance to the fishing industry and invest in advanced scientific fishing methods to protect the seas. “Although we are surrounded by seas on three sides, we still have a big world to explore. We need to learn from marine alga and marine bacterium...The seas have turned into wastelands,” he said.

Fishermen are also unhappy with Turkish fishing practices. They blame “industrialization” for allowing the profession to “lose its soul.”

Erol Domaç, a fisherman since the age of nine, has told daily Hürriyet that small-sized fish are being exterminated, especially in the Black Sea, due to a lack of inspection. “Today, due in the absence of a systematic approach, a fishing massacre is taking place. The fishermen are not aware enough of the situation,” Domaç said, adding that fishing sector workers needed more training.

Mesut Soydaner, a fisherman with 35 years of experience, said they had concluded during a previous meeting of fishermen that inspection rates needed to rise from 35 percent to over 60 percent. “I would catch fish in every situation. But can the customer also eat it? If the answer is no, fishing is over,” he said.