Fishermen – and they are mostly men – can be spotted on Istanbul’s fishing grounds. While they spend quality time outdoors, they fish casually and make friends. Some even make money.
“I have been fishing for 45 years. We were two friends from Bayrampasa, just kids, who snuck in here with money we took from our moms purses and bought a handline. That’s the day it all started, and I haven’t stopped since.
Sabri Celik is a 65-year-old retiree who comes every day to fish at the Galata Bridge. While many anglers have their buckets empty, Celik’s is full of the catch of the day. “Of course we catch fish, why not? ” he’s laughing. “Those who cannot come to see me, I will show them for free. I have taught at least 50 people to fish here.
Cevik calls the Galata Bridge his home, saying he spends more time here than at home, fishing and selling fish. He is proud when he mentions his children, saying he saw two of them get married and sent his daughter to college, all with the money he earned fishing.
“The kids did well and moved on, I’m still here wallowing in misery,” he laughs again. “I really like it here. I come at 4am and come back at 7-8pm. My wife and I fight every day. I told the children that if I ever started walking with a cane, they wouldn’t I just had to bring me here and sit down so I could watch the fishermen. I don’t have to fish myself. I can just watch.
Fishing in Istanbul, like the Marmaray [intercontinental commuter rail line] the excavations have shown us, dates back almost to the Neolithic era, says Ahmet Faik Ozbilge, an Istanbul-based cultural historian. “It’s only natural that the seaside people also fish,” he told TRT World in an email. “Later excavations revealed coins with reliefs of bonito, signaling to us that one of the symbols of the city is the fish.”
The Bosphorus, while separating Asia from Europe, also serves as an important passage for trade between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. “The city we call Istanbul today, once called Byzantium, was one of two ports holding the Marmara end of the strait, the other being Khalkedon,” Ozbilge writes. “Khalkedon was created before Byzantium. The Persian general Megabazus referred to the Khalkedonians as blind and their colony as the “land of the blind” as they failed to see the advantages of Byzantium’s location and established their civilization on the Asian shore.
The Bosphorus is a strait through which fish migrating between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea must cross. Throughout history, Ozbilge says, Istanbul has overflowed catches from the strait during fish races, smearing the bountiful catches with salt or exporting them.
“Unfortunately, there are no bluefish (lufer), bonito (palamut), big bonito (torik) tracks that we used to see in our childhood. And the Beykoz fisheries have also dried up.
Fedayil Bozgul says he is an amateur who regularly visits the Galata Bridge: “We catch fish if we can. We pass the time if we can’t. We catch what we can, and if we can’t, we make friends. We’re talking, we’re retired anyway. It’s better to spend time here than to sit in a cafe all day.”
Bozgul says he enjoys being out in the open and doesn’t sell his catch: “If we catch something, we throw it in the pan. But since we’re amateurs, we can’t catch much anyway,” he smiles. He says there aren’t many fish these days, saying it was better about two months ago when he could fill a bucket with fish, giving the excess to his friends and neighbors. He says he expects the sardines to come out next and that he believes he will catch some if it is. kismet.
Istanbul guide Aysegul Sofuoglu tells a story about the city: “When the bonito was swimming from the Sea of Marmara to the Bosphorus, there was a big white rock where the Maiden’s Tower now stands. [Kiz Kulesi or Leander’s Tower is in the middle of the Bosphorus near the Uskudar shore]. This would scare them and they would maneuver towards Sarayburnu and then the Golden Horn [rather than the Black Sea]. This is why the Greeks decided to settle near Sarayburnu and the Golden Horn.
Sofuoglu adds, “They say the fish was so plentiful that people picked it up with their bare hands.” She also has a story for the name Golden Horn: “The horn is due to the shape, but the golden part comes from the sun shining on the scales of the fish. The fish even assigned the naming of a geographical formation.
According to Sofuoglu, fishing in Istanbul goes back a long way and shaped the place, its economy, the settlement and also influenced the naming of places. “The fish is so plentiful that they invent ways to preserve it. Lakerdaan example is pickled bonito in brine.
Abdullah Konakci is 17 years old and he says he learned to fish with his father. He travels from Sultangazi to Galata Bridge on his days off from work, and he also studies remotely. “There aren’t many fish these days,” he says. “It’s been like that for a while too. As you know we don’t also deal with the seas [as we should.]”
Selahattin Turkmen is 70 years old and has been coming to the Galata Bridge for 25-30 years from his home in Alibeykoy. “I just pass the time,” he said, “and I was unlucky today, no fish.” He confides that there are fishermen who come regularly to this place, who communicate with each other; saying “there’s fish today, there’s no fish tomorrow”. He laments that he doesn’t have many friends at the bridge at the moment, “so I don’t hear about these things, if I had a friend or an acquaintance, they would tell me to come and I would come. But I came back a few days ago and there was no fish, and today I am here again without fish. I will soon be going to play with my grandson.
Huseyin Kara, 51, has been fishing at the Galata Bridge for 20 years. “I started as an amateur, then I started coming here from time to time,” he says. Asked about the abundance of fish in his buckets, he replies that “catching fish is a matter of luck as much as experience”. He adds, “Let’s say different hooks, different lines.”
Kara also sells her catch, horse mackerel (istavrit), for 40 TL per kilogram (about $2.70/kg). “When the fish is more abundant, we sell even less expensively. We are affordable there [in the shops] they sell frozen fish for 40-50 TL. We sell line caught fresh fish for 40 TL.
According to Ozbilge, most anglers who fish at the Galata Bridge do so as a hobby. “In fact, some just come to chat with friends under the guise of fishing,” he says. “And some have made it a vocation, selling what they catch, earning a few liras here and there.”
The biggest problem is lines getting tangled, or sometimes getting caught in the propellers of small motorboats, or hitting someone as they are about to cast the line into the water, Ozbilge says.
Ozbilge also notes that officially there is a fishing ban between spring and summer, and legally the fish would come from the freezer. He adds that horse mackerel can be caught in any season, that when it was growing up they would never have paid for it.
He also explains that catching mendole (izmarit) is great fun, as he checks the line by gently tugging it several times and swallows the bait if convinced. “You have to shoot right away, otherwise he will swim away,” Ozbilge said. “It swims this side and that, and shines so brightly that your heart goes there. But if you showed mercy, you wouldn’t catch any fish either,” he points out.
Ozbilge recommends eating fish from September, when “the fish starts to get fatter and tastier.” Blue fish (lufer) is absolutely delicious in November, and in years when blue fish is scarce, bonito (palamut) is plentiful, he says.
Ozbilge says that only istavrit is caught on the Galata Bridge these days, and that he has heard kefal (grey mullet) being caught with bread, a fish he dislikes. One thing that surprised him, he says, was that three years ago, when he was walking towards Eminonu towards the bridge, he saw in someone’s bucket a big mercan (bream). “I thought to myself, I guess it’s still there,” he notes.
Source: World TRT