Inadequate prices and dwindling catches have combined to put pressure on lüfer fishermen who work the Bosphorus. Several contend they can no longer make a living off their trade.
Meanwhile, there appears to be growing support for tighter restrictions on lüfer fishing, with a proposal to increase the minimum size that can be harvested by fishermen.
Ali Gök, a small shore fisherman, said he used to be able to pay the expenses for two households on the money he made from fishing. Now, he said he can barely maintain one.
“We used to catch 100 to 150 lüfer fish, but these days we usually catch between eight and 15 a day,” Gök said.
In addition to the smaller catch, the prices per kilo fishermen receive are low, he said.
At the Karaköy fish market recently, a kilo of hamsi, or sardines, sold for 2.5 TL, while large palamut, or mackerel, was priced at 6 TL each.
Gök said he suspected large-scale fishing operations and illegal fishing on the Bosphorous were depressing prices.
“When the lüfer disappeared we struggled a lot,” Gök said. “Why did they disappear? We cannot say anything for certain but there are some factors such as overfishing and the pollution in the sea. The lüfer is not seen any more in fish markets.”
Many aspects of the fishing trade — small-scale fishermen, large commercial operators and industry advocates — gathered in Istanbul to discuss the situation during a forum held to celebrate the lüfer, also known as blue fish. The meeting was hosted by the Slow Food Istanbul Fikir Sahibi Damaklar chapter. Erdoğan Kartal, the leader of Istanbul’s fishermen’s union, said that he does not believe overfishing is a problem.
“Fish will not run out in Istanbul,” he said. “As long as the Black Sea, Aegean Sea and the Marmara Sea are there, our fish will not run out.”
For Kartal, the major issue is not the supply of fish but the amount of money fishermen are paid.
“In a country where meat is 35 TL per kilo, a kilo of fish that cost 2.5 TL shows that the ratio is not correct,” he said. “There is something wrong here.” Reflecting the issue’s complexity, large-scale dragnet fisherman Aydın Purmut said he was worried about the effects of pollution in the Bosphorus.
“In 1972, there were 300 different substances that could not be dumped into the sea,” he said. “However today, there are only 30 different waste materials that cannot be dumped into the sea. Why was it 300 and why has it gone down to 30? We have to think about this. Our seas are dirty and we can see these ourselves.”
And, Purmut said, the result is not something that fishermen can fix by themselves.
“As a society [we should] accept that we are all at fault and figure out where we went wrong,” he said. “When we fry oil at home and then pour it down the sink, we’re all at fault.”
Industrial fishermen should not be the made scapegoats for the decreased catch that results from high pollution, Purmut said. Industrial fishermen provide 80 percent of consumers’ fish in response to incentives enacted by the government in the 1980s to boost market supplies, he said.
There was a general agreement among the fishermen that a larger minimum length requirement for fish is necessary to help protect future catches. The current minimum is 20 cm. Slow Food Istanbul has proposed a 24 cm minimum. Both figures are substantially larger than the 14 cm standard that was in effect in 2002.
“Our campaign started all because of an article that appeared in a newspaper late in 2009, which claimed that lüfer, our beloved fish, would be extinct within three years if no precautionary measures were to be taken,” Slow Food official Defne Koryurek said.
Fisherman Ahmet Yavuz, who won a contest held in conjunction with the forum by catching a 38 cm lufer, endorsed increasing the requirement. Limiting catches to larger fish would protect the species, he said.
Differences linger between the small-scale fishermen and the larger firms, Gök said.
“As a result of this we are trying to make our voices heard. In fact, there have been times where we have had arguments with larger fishermen,” Gök said. “We all share the sea.”
Read the original at SESTürkiye.