Loved for its flavor, the lüfer was once known as a ‘democratic’ fish in Istanbul as anyone could throw a line into the Bosphorus and catch dinner for their family. Stories of fishing, cooking and eating the lüfer feature heavily in the city’s folklore and popular culture, however in recent years the rapidly decreasing size of fish found in markets across the metropolis signaled that the fish was quickly heading for the history books.
“We saw a newspaper report in 2009 which claimed that lüfer, our beloved fish, would be extinct within three years if no precautionary measures were to be taken,” exlained Defne Koryurke, Slow Food Istanbul Convivium Leader. “We looked into the matter, talked to the fishermen, to the academicians and realized it really was happening that fast.”
The problems began in 2002 when the fishing code reduced the minimum length for fished lüfer to just 14cm – the size of a juvenile fish. Guided by local fishers concerned about the impact on the species’ reproduction, Slow Food Istanbul joined forces with Greenpeace Mediterranean and gathered a group including chefs and fishmongers to educate the community about “undersized fish” and rally support for a bigger catch size regulation.
Thousands of signatures were quickly collected on a petition, the fish markets were visited regularly to check the situation and publicity started appearing all around the city. The faces of some of the city’s top chefs appeared on posters urging shoppers to say no to eating lüfer less than 24cm-long and stickers appeared in the windows of supporting restaurants.
With increasing media exposure, the Ministry organized a forum on fisheries policies in June this year where Slow Food participated in a lively debate with small-scale and industrial fishers and policy makers. Finally, in August, the Ministry of Agriculture announced the increase of the minimum catch size to 20 cm – a very significant step up from 14cm towards Slow Food’s goal of 24cm.
“We never actually thought that the Ministry would take this action,” said Koryurke. “We’re thrilled with the result and it just shows that if we all join together – fishermen, chefs, consumers – with the support of organizations like Slow Food, great success can be had on protecting the health of local fish populations.”
Slow Food Fikir Sahibi Damakla, Istanbul
Information on the international Slow Fish campaign and how you can get involved: www.slowfood.com/slowfish