Once There Was a Bridge of Fish

Istanbul—poised between Asia and Europe, a gateway to East and West, a crossroads of stories and histories—is a city with great symbolic potential. It is also a city facing a sea full of fish, the Bosphorous, long a source of food for its inhabitants. According to legend, when shoals of fish used to migrate from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea to reproduce, it was possible to walk from Europe to Asia across their backs. Even today, this barely 31-kilometer-long strait is fished by over 2,000 fishers, as well as those employed by the big fishing companies based in the Sea of Marmara.

Unfortunately the problems afflicting our seas—overfishing, pollution, climate change—have not spared the Bosphorous, where fish numbers have declined significantly over the past decades. Last week the first edition of Slow Fish Istanbul, an event forming part of the international Slow Fish campaign, therefore came at a crucial time. The four-day event brought delegates from more than 10 countries to the Turkish city to discuss the state of fishing in the Mediterranean and the so-called “minor seas” and the rivers that flow into them. In the case of the Black Sea, this includes the immense Danube, extending 3,000 kilometers back into Europe, whose basin includes 19 European countries.

From October 17 – 20, over 80 fishers, chefs, academics and civil society representatives met in the splendid setting of the Albert Long Hall of Boğaziçi University, in order to debate and work together on fundamental issues such as the management of common goods, overfishing, pollution and sustainable fishing.

Though this was its first edition, Slow Food Istanbul is an event with deep roots. Back in 2010, declining fish populations in the Bosphorous pushed Slow Food members from the Fikir Sahibi Damaklar Convivium to launch a campaign to safeguard the city’s emblematic fish, the lüfer (bluefish), which was becoming increasingly hard to find. The population was being threatened by the overfishing of the juveniles (fish go through various juvenile stages between birth and adulthood), leading to a shortage of adults of reproductive age.

To date, the campaign to save the lüfer represents one of the best examples of a local campaign to protect the sea and its inhabitants, with thousands of supporters including journalists, academics, chefs and fishing cooperatives, not to mention regular consumers. In 2011, the campaign led to the creation of Lüfer Bayramı, an autumn celebration of the end of the bluefish fishing season, by Slow Food members in Istanbul. The event offers an opportunity for reflection and debate on the future of the Bosphorous and, more generally, the Mediterranean.

Slow Fish Istanbul (October 17-20, 2013) was organized by the Slow Food Fikir Sahibi Damaklar Convivium with the support of Slow Food.

Michele Rumiz

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