Stories from the field | WWF

Gökova Bay creates hope for small-scale fishers across the Mediterranean

As we stood at the edge of the creek, small boats arrived one by one, their crews mostly husband and wife teams, steering their boats towards the dock. Gökova Bay is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled areas in Turkey where pristine turquoise-blue waters coming from the mountains pour into the sea. Visiting fishers confidently stepped on board, settling down to assist the local fishers as if they had known each other forever. “Fish, give me fish” they called, as they asked to help remove the day's catch from the nets. The local Turkish fishermen looked at each other and laughed, amused by this sudden curiosity and caring.

“Do you miss fishing?” “Of course, I’m a fisherman. This is who I am. When there are fishing boats, I feel at home” said Sebastijan from National Park Telašćica, in Croatia, as he climbed on board to help. This scene was repeated several times during the two-day exchange visit as were the laughter and smiles. There was an immediate and instinctive connection between all the fishers who had never met before; photos of ‘trophy’ catches and questions started flying in Italian, Greek, French, Arabic, Croatian and Turkish about catch, invasive species, gears, mesh size and other issues relevant to the daily lives of small-scale fisher.

© M. Ardar / WWF Mediterranean

WWF had invited 18 small-scale fishers from 14 fishing communities in Italy, Croatia, Greece, Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey to Gökova Bay, Turkey. All the visiting fishers are part of the WWF initiative that aims to transform small-scale fisheries in the Mediterranean. Several of these fishers had heard already about the success story of Gökova Bay during the presentations at the FAO-GFCM High Level Conference held in Malta in September 2018. They were aware of the remarkable recovery of marine life in Gökova and they wanted to see the results for themselves.

Day 1 began with everyone getting on board a traditional wooden tour boat to explore the bay. The boat was bustling with life, with the translators working hard not to lose a piece of knowledge shared between fishermen. Özkan Anil, the general coordinator from the Mediterranean Conservation Society (a local NGO) took the stage explaining the challenges and eventual success of the six no-take zone (NTZ)-network and marine ranger program they created in 2010 in response to the poor social, economic and environmental status of small-scale fishery in the area.

© Mart Ardar
© P. Počanić / WWF Mediterranean

The initial idea to create two no-take zones came from the local NGO, but the decisions as to where the protected areas would be located and how many to declare were taken by the fishers themselves. In the end, they suggested to have four extra no-take zones. This was a crucial step in ensuring that there was buy-in from the local community and increased support for the much needed marine conservation.

Local fishers were empowered to monitor and report illegal fishing activities to government authorities, closing the loop between local knowledge and enforcement authority. Three local fishers were trained as rangers and provided with a surveillance boat each. Now the rangers are young university graduates, but they work closely with the local fishers who actively report illegal activities in the marine protected area (MPA). Not to mention the latest high-tech tools applied: drone surveillance and a live-report app available on the rangers’ phones. “If you want your  no-take zones to be efficient, there’s only one way: enforcement, enforcement, enforcement!” said Dr. Harun Güçlüsoy, a researcher who had encouraged the fishers’ participation in decisions to create the protected area.

© Clementine Laurent

DAY 2 - The troupe walked to the seaside cooperative, just next to the harbour where the heart of the village seems to beat. Can Görgün has been the president of the Akyaka cooperative since its foundation in 1991. Together with Ercüment Altınsoy, the oldest of the initial “gang”, he explained in detail to the attentive audience how their cooperative is working. Today there are 25 “real fishers” in the cooperative as he is proud to declare, referring to the fishers who are truly dedicated to the profession and the conservation of the area. “I think you should admire the people here [of Gökova] because they invested their time, energy and own funds to make it work” said Stipe Nedoklan from the Croatian National Platform.

Getting united under a single cooperative has numerous advantages for the fishers. It offers an organized structure that allows them to be better represented on relevant platforms, giving them the opportunity to have their opinions and needs addressed. It also provides a guaranteed market and price for the fishers’ daily catch and support for all legal requirements associated with fishing. And much more.

Today, 70% of the fishers are members of and market their catch through the Akyaka cooperative, the most dominant and active cooperative in the area.

© C. Laurent / WWF Mediterranean

Once Can’s introduction finished, everyone was bursting with questions: “How do you fix the selling prices of the fish? What happens to the unsold fish? What if people want to leave the cooperative?” The language barrier did not seem to prevent communication between fishers who were eager to have their questions answered and to share their experience from back home. “I’m now convinced that this is the thing [create a cooperative] we need to do once back home” said Imed Briki from Tabarka, in Tunisia.

The Akyaka fishery cooperative reports an increase in fishing revenue of over 180% after three years of implementing no-take zones. The increase in revenue is due to stricter enforcement of no-take zones, which has led to a reduction in recreational fishing, demonstrated by the decrease in fishing boats, a reduction in invasive species and increased fish stocks.

© Clementine Laurent
© Clementine Laurent

Success is evident. In one no-take zone for example, sightings of golden grouper (Ephinephelus costae), which contributes a large percentage to local fishing community income, were 34 times higher in 2014 than they were in 2008. Sightings of the same species were also eight times more frequent within one kilometer of the no-take zone, proving a positive spillover effect* in a relatively short period of time (under four years). A very positive result for local fishers who are then able to catch these desirable species in the adjacent fishing grounds.

Later that day, each community took the stage in turn, describing their own issues. Climate change, invasive species, chronic overfishing, poor relations with local authorities and unregulated recreational fishing were all common factors shared by the fishers that are leading to the decline of Mediterranean small-scale fisheries. Then they each told the group what solutions they will take away from Gökova. It was a moving moment, full of sincerity.

There is no better way to share these sentiments than to use the fishers’ own words (click on the photos to read more).

48 hours. This is all it took for the 18 fishers to become good friends and for knowledge and experiences to be shared.

In the end, co-management is about listening to ensure decisions are really well informed – and that is what we saw in Gökova Bay.

This is why WWF brought these people together. To provide a space for the fishers to jointly identify opportunities and alternative scenarios for their resource management; to initiate the growth of a new and strong network of fishers who are dedicated to making positive changes for the Mediterranean; and ultimately to empower these ‘champions’ to take responsibility, to collaborate and to co-create this change, giving them ownership over this process.

*Numbers of fish become so high in an area that is protected that individuals move out into areas that can be fished.

“We must agree all together not to destroy our home.” concluded Dimitris from Greece.