x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Draft law could be end of the line for Istanbul fishermen

The hundreds of anglers who assemble along the Galata Bridge each day providing one of the picture postcard images that define Istanbul could soon disappear. Thomas Seibert reports

Anglers cast their lines into the waters of the Golden Horn from Istanbul's Galata Bridge. Oliver Berg/DPA via AP
Anglers cast their lines into the waters of the Golden Horn from Istanbul's Galata Bridge. Oliver Berg/DPA via AP

ISTANBUL // It is one of the picture postcard images that define the city of Istanbul.

Each day hundreds of Turks assemble along the Galata Bridge to hang their fishing rods over the balustrade and cast their lines into the waters of the Golden Horn below.

Some have been coming for decades, and no one has ever bothered to ask them for a licence.

But now the government in Ankara is making plans to do exactly that. A draft law calls for fines of 200 lira, about Dh360, for amateur anglers caught fishing without a permit.

“All they want is our money,” said Selim, who works in a supermarket and has been fishing off the bridge two or three times a week for the past 10 years.

He believes the government will use the income from the fines on non-licensed fishing simply to fill state coffers. His friend Ahmet, standing next to him on the bridge, agrees.

“I would not be surprised if you had to pay for the air you breathe next,” he said.

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was a “dictator”, Ahmet said.

For many, fishing is not only a way of life, even in winter when icy winds lash the Golden Horn, but a way of catching fish for the dinner table.

But with fish stocks in Turkish waters dwindling, the government claims the law is designed to protect fish species.

The new law also calls for all fishermen aged between 18 and 60 to undergo a mandatory training course to educate them about fishing.

In theory, Turks already need a government licence for non-commercial fishing. But only a few anglers bother to obtain the permit from local authorities, said Serkan Inanc, the president of a fishermen’s organisation called the Association of Nature-Loving Amateur Anglers.

Mr Inanc said the obligatory licence was largely ignored because of a lack of government control. “I have been fishing for 25 years and I have never been asked to show my licence,” he said.

According to the draft law of the agricultural ministry in Ankara, which is also responsible for fishing, angling without a licence will no longer be tolerated. The draft, posted on the ministry’s website, calls for a fine of 200 lira for hobby fishermen caught without a permit. That is about 25 per cent of Turkey’s monthly minimum wage, the standard income for millions of Turks.

The ministry has not said how the law will be enforced or when the draft will be submitted to parliament. But Mr Inanc, the president of the fishermen’s association, said he expected the law to take effect within the next few months.

While most of the fishermen on the Galata Bridge are opposed to the new law, some say it is a good idea.

Erol Deniz, 60, a retired clerk, said the law would encourage fishermen to learn more about fish. “People should know something about what they are doing,” he said. “After all, we have to protect the sea” from overfishing.

For a body of water in the middle of a city of 15 million people, the Golden Horn, a bay of the Bosphorus strait on Istanbul’s European side, is surprisingly clean thanks to clean-up efforts by the municipality.

“Today the water is much cleaner than it was 10 years ago,” Mr Deniz said. He said the Golden Horn had at least seven different kinds of fish.

As he spoke, he pulled an istavrit, a kind of mackerel, out of the water and put the fish, still flapping around, into a bucket filled with salt water.

“I rarely go home with an empty bucket,” he said.

Mr Deniz said he was able to make some money from time to time by selling some of his fish to passers by, a practice that is officially illegal but commonplace on the bridge.

For Mr Deniz, who does not have a fishing licence, a life without fishing on the Galata Bridge a few times a week would be unthinkable.

“Even as a boy, I was watching people here on the bridge and said to myself that one day I would like to be one of them,” he said.

tseibert@thenational.ae