The experts add that Turkey will run out of fish stock in the near future if the government does not authorize private institutions, such as cooperatives, to conduct inspections of fishermen by checking how they fish, if they are fishing in designated areas and whether or not they keep fishing records.
Fish is a valuable source of nutrition for human beings and the fishing industry creates many job opportunities in the country. Turkey has a substantial fishing industry because of its geographical location, situated between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, boasting an 8,333-kilometer-long coastline (approximately 5,000 miles), according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
Despite the absence of recent data, figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that the average annual catch is around 600,000 tons in Turkey, most of which is consumed in the country itself. Eighty percent of total national fisheries production comes from territorial waters, 7 percent from inland waters and 1 percent comes from aquaculture. The rest is imported from other countries.
Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Ramazan Özkaya, chairman of the Ankara-based Central Union of Sea Products Cooperatives (SÜR-KOOP), stated that illegal fishing in Turkey is increasing rapidly every year.
Marmara Region Fishing Associations Federation head Haydar Deniz told Sunday’s Zaman that fishermen trawling illegally throw their nets into the sea any time they choose since they have no fear of regulations. “Once these fishermen get caught by the maritime police, the fish they have are taken away, but their boats remain in place without any fines levied. Thus, those fishermen continue trawling once the police leave,” said Deniz.
Deniz mentioned that this is not the case in Greece and added: “When illegal trawlers get caught in Greece, a police helicopter hovers over them and tells them to leave the boat, and later, after the crew leaves, they destroy the boat by detonating an explosive. If this was the case in Turkey, we wouldn’t see immature fish being taken by trawlers working illegally.”
According to Özkaya, most of this illegal activity is conducted by people who engage in trawling in the coastal waters near the cities. According to Turkish law, fishermen who have a license can trawl in any Turkish sea as long as they stay three miles from shore. However, many of the trawlers in Turkey do not abide by this rule, and this causes damage to the seabed.
Almost all fishermen across Turkey share his concern, Özkaya said, and added, “Trawling occurs in all Turkish seas but mainly in the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.” Özkay says there is currently no deterrent in Turkey to prevent illegal trawling.
When government inspectors catch illegal fishermen in the act, the fish these people caught is sold at auction and most of the times it is bought up by the same people who were fined by the inspectors. Özkay says the government needs to amend Article 1380 of the Fishery Law and hand down harsher penalties for people who engage in illegal fishing.
“These people just go everywhere with their trawlers, even into the Bosporus at night, and damage the seabed. During the auctions I could see that 60 percent of the fish that had been caught hadn’t reached maturity yet, making it an illegal catch. These fishermen who fish illegally also create unfair competition in the fishing sector. In addition, they do not pay tax as they are not registered with the tax office,” Özkay said.
The SÜR-KOOP head stated that the other issue in the fishing industry in Turkey is overfishing and added that the absence of a supervisory body for fishing needs to be addressed urgently. “A regulation that gives cooperatives the authority to monitor and inspect fishermen and the fishery industry in Turkey is essential to prevent overfishing. SÜR-KOOP is ready to assign personnel to any vessel to monitor the activities on board, as long as we are given supervisory authority,” Özkaya said.