Sığacık, Fishermen and Us

“We trusted you, we liked you. Why shouldn’t we help you? Sure we will!” This was the most crucial moment ever since we started our project one year ago. We were enjoying our traditional Turkish tea offered by fishermen friends around a table at a traditional open-air café in Izmir, Sığacık. Either we were listening their struggles or they were listening ours. Their problem was the challenges of small-scale fishery, and ours was obvious: seabirds. As we listened them, they listed us even more. They once again heard from us about their companion seabirds, our enthusiasm when we see the Mediterranean Storm petrel in the middle of the sea and the value of a Yelkouan shearwater chick for its mother. With full attention and care…

Finally, this time, we had managed to explain ourselves with full honesty to fishermen and gained their trust as we have been continuously visiting them in Sığacık since March. This was the most critical notion of our project because we had concluded from different by-catch studies around Mediterranean that the cooperation with fishermen is essential for collecting by-catch data periodically and systematically. However, as we reach the end of our project plan, during an emergency reunion we realised that there was something wrong about the process.

Firstly, since our team was composed of voluntary students and employees, assuring the regularity of on board observations was not a realistic expectation. Secondly, we couldn’t establish a stable communication with fishermen thus we were not able to assure the periodic data flow. The emergency reunion was concluded with an emergency visit to Sığacık and we found ourselves directly on Captain Mehmet Ali’s board. This was our second on-board observation. On one hand, we observed Scopoli’s an Yelkouan shearwaters with admiration, on the other hand we took our observation notes while we were discussing how to standardise on board  data collection procedures for volunteers. Though it was not enough! We were also helping fishermen by wrapping buoy ropes.

The crew starts setting the long-line, good luck!

The crew starts setting the long-line, good luck!

And the team starts looking for seabirds

And the team starts looking for seabirds

The beauty of the sea was enough to cheer up the day but something even better happened: a Storm petrel showed up with all its excitement. As I was new in the seabird world I only knew that Storm petrel was so exceptional to meet, however for Dilek it was a dream moment and I was so happy to share this with her… We love Aegean Sea but as she let us to see a Storm petrel we loved her even more. (Yes, I believe that Aegean has a female identity) As the captain expected, we didn’t observed any seabird by-catch in this trip. He told us the bait that he used is not so attractive for seabirds though it should have been attractive enough for Red seabreams (or Pagrus species) because we caught a lot of them.

Long-line is one of the most selective fishing methods! We aimed for red seabream (Pagrus sp.), we got red seabream

Long-line is one of the most selective fishing methods! We aimed for red seabream (Pagrus sp.), we got red seabream

During the second day, we participated fishermen’s tea-time. We discussed our communication problem and said we expected them to find solutions. We aimed to engage them actively to process so that they could feel as a part of the team. They promised us to arrange a large meeting on September and that they would be more helpful about on-board observations. Plus, we agreed on that a mobile application for recording by-catch data would be beneficial for both parties.

Seabird team is also giving a hand to the crew!

Seabird team is also giving a hand to the crew!

For our return journey, our fisherman friend Captain Kadir gave us a ride to the airport. As we landed in Istanbul, our phone rang. It was Captain Kadir. He was curious whether we reached Istanbul safely. I guess we did not only gain their trust but also are becoming to be a part of a beautiful family. Sığacık was increasing our belief and motivation for our project with people’s hospitality, energy, benevolence and solution-oriented point of view. Afterwards, we are planning to extend our experiences to other parts as first steps for understanding seabirds in Turkey. Meanwhile, major challenges are now being solved gradually as the project advanced. And we? We continue with determination!