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Turkey taking steps to replenish depleted fish stocks

Overfishing and lax commercial fishing regulations in Turkey have caused a sharp decline in fish stocks and encouraged illegal fishing practices.

The Turkish Statistical Institute reported that anchovy production, which accounts for about two-thirds of the annual catch, fell by 28 percent in 2013, according to a Chicago Tribune report.

In a bid to replenish stocks, the government has banned fishing in the summer months when fish reproduce and says it is tightening supervision.

Aylin Ulman, a researcher with the University of British Columbia's Sea Around Us Project, conducted more than 150 interviews with Turkish fishermen from May through July to determine how Turkey's fisheries have changed.

The number of commercial species in Turkey's fishing areas has fallen to just five or six from more than 30 in the 1960s, she said, based on her survey and catch data Turkey provided to the United Nations from 1967 to 2010.

A combination of more people, too many boats with advanced technology, weak fishing laws with even weaker enforcement and unreliable data on fish stocks — fishermen under-reporting their catch to avoid taxation and fines — were to blame, she said.

Commanding 90 percent of Turkey's total catch, sonar technology has made the industrial fishers some of the most productive in the world. "My family brought twin trawl boats, but now we think it was a bad idea. There are too many trawlers and purse seiners and no control," Temel Sengun, 27, told the paper.

The lack of a quota system, scant punishment for illegal fishing and falling prices encouraged fishermen to break the rules, he said. In an effort to shrink the national fleet of more than 20,000 fishing vessels, the government has started a program to buy back boats from fishermen, but it has yet to gain much traction.

The issue has caught the attention of one of Europe's largest food wholesalers. German retailer Metro AG is sponsoring research by the Turkish Marine Research Foundation to check the stocks of one of Turkey’s most popular fish, the bonito. Their main threats are overfishing, pollution, habitat loss because of shipping and climate change, according to foundation president Bayram Ozturk.

Campaigners Slow Food Istanbul and Greenpeace have joined forces to push for the protection of the iconic bluefish.

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