Istanbul Celebrates New Hope for a Favorite Fish With First-Annual 'Lüfer Festival'

lufer bluefish festival kids istanbul photo

Children with their bluefish drawings at the Lüfer Festival. Photo: Slow Food Istanbul.

Istanbul marked its first "Lüfer Bayramı" (Bluefish Holiday) this weekend with fishing competitions, environmental talks, showings of fish-themed films and artwork by students, and storytelling by fishermen who have experienced 50 years of ups and downs off the coast of Turkey's largest city. The inaugural event also provided an opportunity to cheer a victory in the fight to save the popular local fish from extinction.

"The lüfer that migrates from the Black Sea to the Marmara [Sea] and back again is unique," Defne Koryürek of Slow Food Istanbul, the leader of the "Don't Let the Lüfer Go Extinct!" campaign, told Slow Food International earlier this fall. "Loved for its flavor, the lüfer was known as a 'democratic' fish as anyone with a line and hook could catch a good-sized fish to feed their family. This led to the species becoming an important part of Istanbul folklore, with literature, poems, and songs talking about [the fish], the fishermen, and [lüfer's] culinary preparations."

Overfishing Of Juvenile Fish A Major Threat
Overfishing, especially of juveniles, had however brought the beloved species to the brink of extinction when Slow Food Istanbul began its campaign in April 2010 to reinstate a minimum catch size of 24 centimeters, the size of a mature fish capable of reproducing, after it was reduced to 14 centimeters due to fishing-industry lobbying pressure.

lufer bluefish festival poster istanbul image

A poster for the Lüfer Festival and the 'Don't Let the Lüfer Go Extinct!' campaign. Image: Slow Food Istanbul.

Endorsing the campaign this summer, Slow Food International president Carlo Petrini reminisced about grilled bluefish he had eaten in Istanbul many years ago, and how he wanted "the next generation to be able to experience the [same] joy":

The lüfer fish is a symbol of the linkages between Istanbul and its sea. [Protecting it] is not just about sustainable fishing. It is about preserving our culture and heritage. It is about preserving our future.

The local Slow Food group and its allies, including Greenpeace Mediterranean, collected pledges from chefs, fish sellers, and shoppers to not buy, sell, or eat lüfer less than 24 centimeters long, and organized a major letter-writing campaign to the Ministry of Agriculture, which agreed in September to increase the minimum catch size to 20 centimeters.

Minimum Catch Size For Lüfer Increased
Though the campaign still has a ways to go to reach its final goal -- and though some fishermen say the efforts just mean neighboring countries will snap up all the lüfer -- the ministry's turn-around is a significant victory in a place where as recently as January, the prime minister's fisheries adviser was pushing for a big boost in fish exports.

Organizers of the municipality-supported Bluefish Festival hope there will be even more to celebrate at future events, which will be held each year on the third Saturday in October. "We hope the Lüfer Festival will not be limited to only bluefish, but also include mackerel, pine nuts, redbud [trees], and [all the] endless resources of Istanbul," they said in a statement announcing this year's event. "Let this be the pride of those who protect Istanbul and... the richness of our common heritage."

Blog Action Day: Focus On Food
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