Project Detail: Balıkçılar – Fishermen of Istanbul in time of crisis


Reportage and Documentary 2019




Davide Germano


Project Info

Balıkçılar – Fishermen of Istanbul in time of crisis

This project aims to document the current situation of fishing sector in Istanbul area - from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara - for small businesses.

In Turkey, fishing is at the base of a culinary culture that embraces social, political and history. Needless to say, it has been and continues to be an important facet of the Turkish economy. Despite that, fishing industry is facing a new crisis affecting mostly small businesses due to many reasons, from economic to environmental sustainability.
The sharp depreciation of the Turkish lira has led to a continuous increase of fuel costs. The effects are tangible from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. As the fishing season started on September 1st, not all all fishermen have participated to it: some families had to sell boats, some cannot afford to navigate every day with the risk of not being able to catch a proper amount of fish that could cover the costs. I have visited a third-generation fisherman’s house in Kadiköy: father and son are now working part-time for one of the ferry operators in the Bosphorus Strait while trying to keep the family business running. On contrast, big operators have seen their trading with neighboring countries boosting, making Turkey the primary market for fish and seafood exports to EU, but also to Russia, Middle East, etc.
At the same time, the industry is facing a big change in the quantity and quality of the fish: some species, abundant before, have disappeared from Turkish waters. Off the coasts of Tuzla Marina, in the Sea of Marmara, today the vast majority is represented by shrimps only. Fishermen interviewed claim that a poorly regulated environment, coupled with massive increase of civilian and military vessels through the Bosphorus – making it one of the most crowded waterways in the world – has led to an irreparable situation for the marine life.
Given the paucity of the fish, a not negligible number of fishermen from villages like Rumeli Feneri, on the Black Sea, sometimes goes fishing beyond the nautical miles allowed by Turkish regulations; a few even dared to pursue illegal fishing in foreign waters – such as Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, etc. – risking high fines, boat sequestration or even jail.
Contribution and consequence of the crisis is the massive increase in livestock farms, on which more and more work and investments are concentrated. One of the boat restaurants in Sultanahmet, few meters from Galata Bridge, declared that the grilled mackerel they served in the fish sandwich (balık-ekmek, one of the most iconic Istanbul meals) is coming from Norway: this is the only way it can be available throughout the year, without counting on fluctuating catches.