Ahmet Aslan, a Turkish fisherman and vocal opponent of illegal fishing in the Bosporus Strait, was shot in front of a coffeehouse on Saturday, reportedly by the owner of a local trawler that had been fishing in prohibited waters. Ahmet lost an eye, miraculously escaping a fatal bullet, and the disturbing incident has sparked fears of a violent turn in an increasingly public and heated debate in Istanbul about sustainable fishing.
Ahmet Aslan has been the president of the Rumelikavağı fishing cooperative for 30 years, working to protect the viability of this important activity for this small village situated at the top of the Bosporus on the Black Sea. Two months ago he was appointed local representative on the new Committee Against Illegal Fishing that includes representatives from some of the 36 coops along the Bosporus Strait, and recently submitted a scathing report on illegal fishing in the region.
“As the stocks are diminishing, of course there's been a rise in the illegal fishing,” said Fikir Sahibi Damaklar Convivium Leader Defne Koryürek who represents Slow Food on the committee. “And it is not only the rise in the trawlers, which are forbidden in the Marmara region, there is an increase in taking undersized fish and new techniques to attract the fish that together are placing the stocks under great pressure.”
While Slow Food Fikir Sahibi Damaklar has been focused on stopping undersized fishing in its “Don't Let the Lüfer Go Extinct!" campaign, in Rumelikavağı the problem has long been the illegal use of trawlers. Ahmet’s vocal opposition to illegal activity locally had resulted in direct threats: "There is a gang with trawlers, and we are under constant threat," he was quoted saying to broadcaster NTV.
“This is not a good time to stop and think a little,” said Koryürek, confirming that the Istanbul Union of Fishermen’s Cooperatives and Slow Food would be taking immediate action. "There are very few fish left in the waters, there are a lot of fishermen that need to make a living and we need to ensure that illegal fishing is identified and severely punished.”
Ahmet is expected to be released from hospital this Saturday, and a crowd will be waiting to show their support for him and protest against the lack of action taken by the government to strengthen laws against illegal fishing. Thus far, the powerful industrial fishing lobby has quickly stopped approaches made by the Ministry of Agriculture to reform fishing regulation.
“I very much believe that this incident is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Koryürek. “Not far below the surface a massive monster is waiting to be awakened. In this instance, between an illegal trawler and a co-op president, it’s easy to see who is right. But as stocks diminish drastically, next time the dispute could easily be between licensed fishers fighting over fishing grounds.”
Many local fishermen worked with Slow Food Istanbul on its successful campaign to increase the minimum catch size for lüfer, an endangered bluefish, but others protested the change, saying it would drive them out of business.
The Slow Food association and the members of the Slow Fish network would like to express their support to Ahmet during his recovery, and for the important work he is doing.
For more information on Slow Food’s campaign for sustainable fishing, visit www.slowfood.com/slowfish