Istanbul Chefs, Diners, and Fishermen Unite to Save Iconic Species from Extinction

save lufer bluefish campaign posters istanbul photo

Restaurants and fish shops in Istanbul display these posters to show their support for a campaign to save the bluefish. Images via Slow Food Istanbul.

When Defne Koryürek was growing up in Istanbul, lüfer (bluefish) were a favorite -- and plentiful -- dish. "I don't remember ever being able to finish a whole lüfer. My mother would ask which part I wanted, the tail or the head," she said. But over the years, imperceptibly to most local residents, the fish have gotten smaller and smaller, Koryürek, the founder of a Slow Food group in Istanbul, said: "Today people order lüfer and they're not satisfied; they have to order another plate."

Fearing the eventual disappearance of the iconic fish, found in the Black Sea and Marmara Sea on either side of the city, Koryürek's organization has initiated the "Don't Let the Lüfer Go Extinct!" campaign to increase the minimum catch size for lüfer -- and secure vows from local restaurants and shops not to serve or sell the smaller fish.

Campaign Against Serving And Eating Juvenile Fish
In Turkey, small bluefish are known as çinekop (10-15 centimeters) or sarıkanat (15-20 cm.), neither of which have reached full maturity and the ability to lay eggs. Previously, people believed they were a different type of fish altogether and did not realize that they were cutting off the species' chances of reproducing by eating the juvenile fish. A reduction in the minimum catch size from 20 cm. to 14 cm. amplified the problem. Slow Food Istanbul and the Turkish Marine Research Foundation (TÜDAV) are lobbying the government to reinstate the higher limit.

"It is like the difference between a sheep and a lamb," Koryürek said. "To be able to have sheep, you have to let some of the lambs grow up."

Support From Public, Fishermen, Top Chefs
The campaign has drawn support from some of the city's top chefs, including Mehmet Gürs at Mikla, Mehmet Gök at the Four Seasons, and Musa Dağdeviren at Çiya, who are among the dozens of chef, cooks, and food suppliers that have pledged not to serve bluefish under 24 cm. in length. The group is also working with local fishermen's cooperatives, many of whom understand that catching the fish too small offers short-term gain at the long-term expense of their profession.

A petition backing the increased catch limit has garnered more than 3,000 signatures -- a number that may not seem like a lot if compared to similar efforts in the United States and Europe, but, Koryürek said, definitely a success for Turkey, where a petition supporting efforts to stop global warming drew only 300.

"People have fond memories of this fish being caught in the sea here, by them or their neighbor, and eaten on the shore," she said. "People do not want to lose something that is so dear to a geography, something that belongs here, to Istanbul, and that everyone enjoys."

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