Fighting Illegal Fishing in the Bosphorus

Turkey | Rumelikava

Ahmet Aslan is the president of the Rumelikava Fisheries Cooperative in Rumelikava, a small fishing village on the Bosphorus. He tells us about how fishermens’ lives have changed and the dire situation they face today.

“The number of fishermen is increasing due to the growing population. Boats are bigger and fishing technology has developed, so it is now much more appealing to fish with illegal trawlers or in illegal areas of Bosphorus.

Illegal trawling on our shores is threatening our security forces and cooperatives. These trawlers are usually not operated by fishermen and this can cause terrible consequences, including what happened to me [Ahmet was shot in the eye for standing up to illegal fishing]. These trawling boats can earn 75,000 TL in just one night, and that also encourages new fishermen to catch baby fish without thinking about the sustainability of our seas.

We have seen a direct correlation between greed for earning money and ecological destruction. There didn’t used to be any trawling boats in our village, but as we witnessed the increase in illegal trawling, it began to seem appealing to fishermen. This is why the Rumelikava Fishermen Cooperative has informed the authorities about this problem. Within our limited ability, we keep up the fight against illegal fishing.

However, trawling is just a small aspect of our seas’ problems. Pollution, overfishing, global warming and extreme sea traffic on the Bosphorus are also big problems. Sea life in the Bosphorus is very important because the strait serves as a migration route and reproduction area for many fish species.

As far as I know, there were approximately 450 fish species in the Sea of Marmara, but almost 150 or more are no longer found here, including tuna, swordfish, mackerel, turbot, plaice, hogfish, lobster, red mullet, picarel, bluefish, jackfish, whiting, squid, octopus, sea bass, scad, cod, among others.

There are two main reasons for the fish species’ extinction: sea pollution and overfishing, much of which is the result of illegal bottom trawling, which eventually leads to the extinction of fish species and consequently of fishermen.

Illegal fishermen’ boats should be confiscated and sequestered and not allowed to return to sea. Hoverer, this is not enforced at the moment and boats are given back to their owners after their certificates are cancelled. This means the penalties applied to illegal fishing activities are ineffective.

The Istanbul Seafood and Fishermen Cooperatives’ Union is working on these issues, but its limited jurisdiction makes it hard to solve problems in the short term. Another major issue is that financial penalties applied to illegal trawlers cannot be collected as security forces are not allowed to board these boats, even if they refuse to pay. There is not much to stop the illegal fishing. Such a lucrative and low-risk practice is very attractive to many fishermen, so illegal fishing keeps spreading

The way I see it, what happened to me was only the tip of the iceberg. Bans were enforced after 2008, and fish were again able to reproduce on the bottom of Bosphorus. Then, due to the lack of penalty enforcement, illegal trawling became popular again.

This problem was taken up by the Istanbul Seafood and Fishermen Cooperatives’ Union and our struggle against illegal trawling started by establishing a commission against illegal fishing. I was a member of this commission and became an obvious target for illegal trawlers. As the cooperative president, the trawling mafia has chosen me as a target to scare other fishermen and consequently I lost my eye after this attack.

I hope something like this will never happen again. Our government must make our fishermen’s economic welfare a priority, in order to prevent such situations and the development of illegal fishing mafias.

Almost all fishermen are under heavy debt pressure from middlemen, so they just want to keep fishing illegally so that they can make a living. Our government should apply new policies and regulations in order to save our fishermen from this corrupt mechanism. Otherwise the sea resources will end and that will bring our own end too.

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