Protecting stocks from illegal fishing: on patrol in the Bosphorus
Ilya U. Topper
Istanbul, 25 Nov (efe-epa).- “Fifteen centimeters, very good, very good”. The inspector returns a pair of jack mackerel to the ship’s crate and bends over to check if another of the silvery fish that flopped onto the deck under the glare of a spotlight is also big enough to go to market. It is nearly midnight on the Bosphorus.
Ahmet Yavuz has been with the Coast Guard for two decades, and has spent the last four years on fishing patrols, so he knows the regulatory sizes by heart. “Anchovy, nine centimeters. Horse mackerel and red mullet, thirteen centimeters. Bonito, 25”, using a sort of of tin spade with a measuring ruler marked into it on which he places each fish.
“Our work is fundamental, because if the species are caught before they reach maturity and can spawn, they will become extinct,” the inspector says while he throws overboard some “little fish” that have slipped through the net.
If there are only a few specimens that don’t comply with the regulations, the boat in question will escape a fine.
“They can have up to 15 percent of ‘trash’ fish, that is, fish below the regulation size or species different from the one being sought,” says Yavuz, while he is careful not to cause a moray eel to snake through the jack mackerel. “If it is more, we confiscate the catch and impose a fine.”
“The government has zero tolerance for illegal fishing,” says Professor Bayram Öztürk, of the Tüdav maritime research center in Istanbul, in a telephone conversation with Efe.
“The laws are correct, but more controls are needed to completely eradicate illegal fishing”, he adds.
In the last 10 years, the volume of illegal or uncontrolled fishing has been reduced by 56 percent in the Black Sea, Öztürk says, and the trend is encouraging because “new generations of fishermen are more aware of the problem”.
According to data from Tüdav, in 2018 120,600 checks were carried out in the Black Sea: 828 tons of fish were seized, 50 boats had their licenses withdrawn and 8,640 people were fined.
With the measures, the stocks of horse mackerel and anchovy “are sustainable,” says the professor, although turbot remains at risk, and there is a key point for improvement: “Cooperation with neighboring countries in the Black Sea, but especially in the Aegean, where we share the fish with Greece,” he says. “But there is no cooperation” in this area.
NETWORKS AND MEASURES
Several 20-meter-long fishing boats are grouped together at the northern mouth of the Bosphorus, a short distance from the Black Sea. The strong currents of the waterway keep the waters fresh and appealing for schools of horse mackerel and other species, and the artisanal fleet launches purse seine nets known as “girgi”, which are used to target dense schools of a single species.
“This net is legal, but should not be used at less than 24 meters deep so as not to damage the seafloor. And it is forbidden to use trawl nets, because they destroy the ecosystem of the bottom,” Öztürk says.
A huge Coast Guard patrol boat, accompanied by two speedboats, has left the Yenikapi dock, in the Sea of Marmara, and has travelled the almost 30 kilometers of the Bosphorus to reach the place where the fishing boats are operating.
On this occasion, everything seems to be in order. An officer checks the map of boats on his cell phone: the screen is dotted with green triangles, each one representing a fishing vessel with the license in order and located thanks to the AIS radio system, which also indicates its speed.
One boat is marked in red. “The system indicates that it is moving at five knots, but we know that a fishing boat of this type must go at just over three knots when it is fishing; this may be an indication that it is using a non-regulated net, for example,” explains a sailor.