Unlike other things, when it comes to fish, size does matter. That's certainly the argument that Fikir Sahibi Damaklar ("Sophisticated Palates," Istanbul's Slow Food chapter) has been making for the last few years, since it started a campaign to save the local population of lufer (bluefish) by asking Istanbulites to make sure they only sell, cook or eat fish that are larger than 24 centimeters, which is the size at which they can start to reproduce.
The campaign has been both successful, with the government responding to it by raising the size limit on bluefish from 14 cm. to 20 cm., and controversial, leading to infighting among commercial fisherman (for more, check out this previous Eurasianet article).
To raise regional awareness about the issue of overfishing, Fikir Sahibi Damaklar is organizing a four-day "Slow Fish" conference that will take place in Istanbul October starting October 17. Culinary Backstreets caught up with Defne Koryurek, who runs the Slow Food Istanbul chapter, to interview her about the conference and her group's efforts to save Istanbul's threatened lufer. From the interview:
How did the idea for the Slow Fish conference come about?
It was Fikir Sahibi Damaklar who decided to do this event, and it is mainly because we've been campaigning for fish, particularly for our beloved lüfer, or bluefish, for the last 4 years.
When the members of the chapter read in a 2009 article that lüfer was about to go extinct, we were shocked by the fact! In the article an academician was claiming that if we continued to fish in the current fashion, we would exhaust all the lüfer stocks in less then five years – for good. We wondered, of course, if this ever could be true. So we started to dig. The more we dug the more we learned. The more responsible we felt. And we realised that it is not only a matter of fishing, or size, but also a matter of community, of history, of culture that needs to be considered to save just a fish!
So in 2010 the campaign to save the lüfer started. We called it “Istanbul Lüfere Hasret Kalmasın,” which roughly means “Don’t let Istanbul lose the bluefish,” and it asked people not to cook, sell or consume bluefish that were smaller than 24 centimeters, which is the size at which the fish can start to reproduce. It was a very local campaign. Chefs signed on, first, followed by the small-scale fishermen. And ever since we have been working hand-in-hand with academicians, small scale fishermen, bureaucrats, consumer groups. It's been four years now and there is still a very long way to go!
The campaign gave birth to an annual bluefish festival and the festival gave birth to this regional meeting.
Istanbul is deeply associated with eating fish. Should that image be changed somehow?
The fish was in abundance up until recently. For example, when I was a child, we'd fish even with buckets! You'd drop one in the sea, say in November and pull it back filled with fish! But the population of Istanbul was way smaller then. The city I was born in had a population of a million and a half! I'm no grandma and the population is now claimed to have reached close to twenty million already! Istanbul is about to explode and local consumption is at its highest. No fish can survive such a city! So, yes, the image needs to change. But not only for the fish, but also for the forests, for the birds, for the people. We are all in this together.