“The sea is our mother. She gives us pure love without any expectation of something in return. She feeds us continuously, even though we mistreat her. We must show her more respect.”
Our guest today is Mehmet Can Görgün, a fisher from Turkey who has been working in the Gulf of Gökova for over 40 years. He’ll be talking to us at Slow Fish about the need to adapt to changing ecosystems, reflecting on his experiences in the Aegean Sea. I ask him what changes he’s seen in his time.
When I started fishing, there was no modern technology involved. Some days we caught nothing! But the development of technology has also led to the advancement of industrial fishing. Because of that, small-scale fishers now have industrial competitors. On the other hand, our cooperation with public institutions, universities and NGOs has improved. This makes a huge difference for coastal communities and the protection of marine biodiversity. There’s more international cooperation too. I couldn’t have imagined, 40 years ago, a scene with Greek, Tunisian and Algerian fishers all at the same table, discussing their problems together. Technology has made it easier to share our knowledge and experiences. Today there are more than four hundred fishers I can call my friends from around the Mediterranean.
What hasn’t changed? My feelings for the sea. The sea is our mother. She gives us pure love without any expectation of something in return. She feeds us continuously, even though we mistreat her. We must show her more respect.
What are the most urgent problems you face? What are you doing to combat them?
The loss of marine biodiversity and habitat destruction pose a huge threat to the fishers and everyone who owes their livelihoods to the sea. To protect it, six areas in the Gulf of Gökova were declared ‘No-Fishing Zones’ in 2010. All fishing activity ceased immediately over an area of twenty-three square kilometers. Of course, there was illegal hunting too. So we, the Akyaka Fisheries Cooperative, worked with the Mediterranean Conservation Society (MCS) to develop the Marine Rangers System to protect these no-take zones. This system, which was implemented in 2013, has led to a 70% decrease in illegal fishing.
As well as helping fish populations and their habitats to recover, it’s good news for the local fishers too. Our incomes are up 400%. We’ve done a lot of work with the MCS to raise awareness of the issue of illegal hunting, and local people are better informed now. They take a picture if they see a rogue speargun diver. In the past, people were more passive because they didn’t know, or were afraid of intervening when they witnessed these situations.
How is climate change affecting the local ecosystem?
The MCS regularly measures the temperature of the seawater. In the Gulf of Gökova, the water temperature no longer drops below 19 degrees in winter, or 29 degrees in summer. Some species can’t cope. The seabream, for instance, begin to spoil and stink while they’re still alive in temperatures of 30 degrees or more. So when we catch them they’re already so close to death that they are unmarketable, worthless. It’s fair to say that climate change is the biggest scourge of fishing. Hot water species have invaded our waters. We held a festival together with the MCS to promote consumption of these invasive species, which was influential for consumers and fishers alike. We talked about how to cook these species and tasted them. Before this festival, only 10% of the fishers’ income came from these invasive fish species, but today this rate varies from 30 to 60%. The goldband goatfish is particularly popular.
There are dangerous invaders, too. The most terrifying is the poisonous bubblefish, which now lives in the Gulf of Gökova. We are doing our best to educate fishers and the local people about it, so they know not to catch it or eat it.
What’s your favorite local fish dish?
One of my favorite species belongs to the grouper family, it’s known as istirye locally (Epinephelus costae). It has six yellow st
ripes and flower-like spots. The appetizer we make with that fish is one of my favorite recipes. Normally, you can prepare this snack with any fish species in half an hour. But with the istirye I usually take my time to prepare it with tomato, onion, pepper, garlic, dill, parsley and flour. The story of this recipe is precious to me because when I started fishing, I had never seen this kind of grouper. We were going further out to fish and sometimes a trip would last a week. One day we went fishing with Uncle Halim, who was a famous fisherman at that time. He had emigrated from Crete island to Bodrum,so his Turkish accent was a bit different. When he caught this fish I remember saying that I didn’t want to eat it, because it seemed so strange. He said he’d cook it anyway and see if I wanted it… and I’m glad he did. It was amazing. I wanted to eat it every single day! But Uncle Halim told me: ‘Young man! This is an expensive fish, you should sell it fish to make money.’ I told him ‘Money isn’t important, all I want is to learn how to cook in that way.’ He fried it in oil with herbs and onion. I’ll never forget it.