At Köksal Yılmaz’s fish stall along the Sea of Marmara in Istanbul’s Bostancı District, bream and sea bass are as popular as ever. But the days when most of his fish came from these waters are long gone.
“If it wasn’t for fish farms, all of our businesses would go bust,” said Yılmaz, 50, who gave up his former livelihood as a fisherman eight years ago when yields dropped so low he could no longer make a living.
Pollution and overfishing have plagued the waters around Istanbul for decades. But now, with campaigners fighting for tougher regulations to prevent a total collapse in fish stocks, a boom in illegal trawling has led to violence.
In late January, Ahmet Aslan, head of a fisheries union on the European side of Istanbul, was sitting in a teahouse near his home when a man entered, asked him to step outside, and challenged him over his opposition to illegal trawling. He then pulled out a pistol and shot him in the face. Aslan lost his left eye. He has said the attack was a threat to campaigners from a cartel of illegal fishermen, whom he accuses of jeopardizing the future of the industry for the sake of short-term profit.
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Alexander Christie-Miller is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.