Fethiye’s fishermen are having a tough time. If you love visiting Fethiye’s fish market, the thought of there being no locally caught fish for sale is unthinkable. It would certainly be a tragedy for the town’s fishermen, who have spent their lives working hard to satisfy our insatiable demand for fish. So, what can be done (if anything) to protect the livelihoods of our local fishermen?

Supply and demand
Supply and demand

In recent years it has become all too clear to Fethiye’s fishing community that their jobs are on the line. Nowadays, many are asking what can be done to balance demand for locally caught fish against environmental concerns.

A hard life

Fethiye's fishermen's wharf
Fethiye’s fishermen’s wharf

It seems that everybody loves fish but nobody cares much about the small-scale commercial fishermen who work long hours, day and night, to catch them.

It’s important to point out that these fishermen have nothing to do with the huge trawlers and their destructive dragnets, or the companies with offshore farms or that import fish from abroad.

No picture postcard

Is it the end of the line for Fethiye's fishermenThis is about picture postcard fishermen. You know, the ones we photograph mending their nets. Except a fisherman’s life isn’t a picture postcard. It’s a tough life, for them and their families, and a regular supply of fish is imperative for their financial security.

More demand than supply?

Is it the end of the line for Fethiye's fishermenAlthough an increasing number of people relish a fish supper, very often, at the same time as customers are tucking into their fishy feast, they complain that it’s expensive.

Meanwhile, the fisherman’s increasing financial and bureaucratic burden outweighs the meagre benefits of their diminishing catch.

A way of life as old as time

Is it the end of the line for Fethiye's fishermenFor as long as the oldest folk can remember there have been fishermen in Fethiye. These men are modest, they don’t want to attract publicity, but one of Fethiye’s dwindling number of fisherman ventures an explanation:

This area is one of the deepest in Mediterranean. Once away from the land the sea soon reached depths of more than 3,000 metres. Therefore, unlike the shallower areas around Mersin or Izmir, coastal fishing is the only option.”

He is reminded of the old days.

“Until quite recently Fethiye had a small population and fisherman had no ready market for their catch. But over the last 30 years fish has become an important staple of the town’s diet. Of course, tourism has further increased demand and this has always been a benefit for the local economy, until now that is.” 

It is a sad reality that maybe less than 5% of the coastal fish stocks remain.

Environmentalists put this down to over fishing, pollution and unsustainable practices but as our fisherman points out, it’s a simple case of demand outstripping supply and this area’s capacity is no longer sufficient.

What can be done?

He thinks that temporary “no catch” zones could help and says this should be discussed. However, he adds, it should not be forgotten that, while fishermen are doing a difficult and sometimes dangerous job to provide people with what they want – freshly caught fish, they are also trying to earn a living.

Is it the end of the line for Fethiye's fishermenUnfortunately, the lack of fish together with the repeated death-blows of legislation could well mean that this fisherman’s days are numbered. Recently there has been a ban imposed on catching grouper but with no support for the fishermen whose livelihoods depended on this increasingly uncommon but when it happens, lucrative catch, their futures and those of their families are in doubt.

Everyone’s loss

Are fishermen simply going to shrug their shoulders and walk away from a lifetime’s work to find another job? This seems unlikely and if they do it is our loss as well as theirs.

All too often these hard working men are marginalised or excluded from the committees that impact on their future. Their lives are about catching fish, not dabbling in politics. It seems that their views are unimportant in the eyes of authority.

Is it the end of the line for Fethiye's fishermenAre fish farms the answer?

A few years ago, some fishermen started fish farms, for sea bass and bream, but now these are under attack by those who find these farms unattractive in tourist areas. Fish farmers who can afford it have moved their businesses off shore. Initially offered support, they were eventually burdened with the impossible expense of moving the farms, giving up, or facing bankruptcy. This opened the door for larger, wealthy companies; once again at the expense of the local economy.

Support Fethiye’s fishermen!

These problems must be resolved if Fethiye is to maintain its character as a fishing port and the town’s fishermen, the fish market and the environment are to be protected.

In the meantime, choose locally caught sea fish whenever possible… and remember to ask if the fish is caught by Fethiye Fishermen.

Is it the end of the line for Fethiye's fishermen