A marine protected area with a rare combination of special features: Pristine natural surrounding, idyllic fishing villages, cultural sites, a unique underwater geology, and, most important: The area could be protected from the development of mass tourism.
All in all, an MPA with huge potential and I was keen to find out, what has been done so far and where improvement is still needed in order to protect this special place from several threats.
Shortly after my visit to Gökova MPA, I went to Kaş-Kekova marine protected area, which is about 200 km further down the Turkish coast, in the Province of Antalya. The main town in the area is Kaş, a small and very idyllic fishing, diving and yachting town, popular among individual tourists.
I immediately liked Kaş and decided to stay for a couple of days. I wanted to go diving and see what the underwater world in such a protected area looks like. Inspired from my interview at Gökova MPA, I was also curious to find out if the fishermen in Kaş have a similar enthusiasm for their MPA and benefits from their MPA as I had seen it in Gökova before.
Interview with Kaş Fishermen
Unfortunately I do not speak Turkish and I had difficulties to find a translator so spontaneously. But I gave it a try anyway and showed up at the fishing cooperative, to ask for the head of the cooperative. The fishermen invited me for a tea and tried to call him for me, but they could not find him. As we did not have a common language, we just sat there drinking tea, smiling at each other.
At one point, one of them had an idea and brought me to sport fisher Ibrahim Sarica who speaks English. In this way I had the chance to interview Ibrahim Sarica and fisherman Abdullah Muslu about their opinion about the MPA.
Ibrahim and Abdullah, how do you think about Kaş-Kekova Marine Protected Area?
“We are not happy with the conditions of the MPA so far, and there are several reasons for it:
1. Our favourite fishing spot, the five-islands area (see map below) has been closed for fishing. For us it has always been very convenient, as it is close to Kas, we had good catches, and it is quite protected, so especially with bad weather conditions, our work was much easier when we were still allowed to fish here.
2. The remaining areas, where we are allowed to fish are quite far away. That means, we need more time to go there and have less time to catch fish, which results in much higher efforts in terms of fuel and time if we want to have the same catch as before.
3. The benefit of closing the area for fishing is to protect the fish for a longer period of time and to have bigger fish stocks again on the longterm. WWF closed the area in 2012, 6 years ago, and still, if you dive there, you do not see many fish, because not enough is done to prevent illegal fishing.
4. Our families have been fishing in Kaş for decades. Ibrahims mother for example used to be a fisherwomen as well, and his family has a long fishing tradition. It feels unfair if one day, WWF, a group of people from outside, comes and just tells you what you are not allowed to do anymore at the place where you grew up and where you have been living and working for your whole life.
5. The five-island area has been closed for fishing but not for diving, which we think is an unfair situation for us fishermen.
6. We also think that the situation with the Greek fishermen is very unfair. The Turkish fishermen are not allowed to catch in the no-fishing areas of the MPA and in general, in Turkey it is prohibited now to catch grouper and marlin. But the Greek fishermen from the islands opposite of Kas nonetheless come and catch the big fish at the border of the five-islands area, they catch the groupers and they even try to fish inside the five-islands area.
7. In addition to all of this we have to fight with additional problems for example with the puffer fish, an invasive species that eats other fish and eats our catch, our baits and destroys our nets.
8. Many people switched to other jobs as they cannot live from fishing anymore
We understand the idea of the MPA. If we have some areas where fishing is not allowed, the fish have far better chances to reproduce and grow, and we end up with much bigger fish stocks.
However this only works if somebody makes sure that there are no illegal fishing activities. At the moment, patrolling does not not work 100%, which means, the fishermen end up with all the extra efforts and expenses, but with no benefits.
As long as enforcement does not work, somebody should come up with a temporary solution for this! Otherwise, there is a risk that the fishing tradition in Kas vanishes, because fishing is not lucrative anymore.”
Would you be open to renegotiate the conditions and restricted areas of the MPA again with WWF?
“Yes, of course. We would also not mind if other areas in the MPA were closed for fishing, alternatively to the five-islands area.“
Interview with WWF Turkey
After my talk to the two fishermen, I wanted to know and understand the position and perspective of WWF in this matter and organized an interview with Yaprak Arda from WWF Turkey.
Yaprak is a conservation officer at WWF Turkey. In Kas-Kekova MPA she is the “field person”, responsible for stakeholder engagement.
What can you say about the issues which the fishermen complained about when I talked to them?
“The fishermen were included in the decision-making process from the beginning of the establishment process, and also the dive centers and boat tour operators. All stakeholders agreed on the no-fishing zones and no dive zones.
The problem was that when these zones which everybody had agreed on, were taken to the government for approval, the government approved zones which were a bit different from the zones on the first draft. Furthermore the government even extended the restricted areas a bit. Afterwards, the fishermen thought that WWF had extended the regions, but in fact it was the government. And of course, after the government assigned the areas, there was no way back to the original plan.
For this reason WWF has proposed the following solution to the fishermen: If we can do assessments of the MPA for at least 3 or 4 times after its establishment, we will be able to assess the fish stocks, and then we may be able to renegotiate the areas. However the fishermen only focus on their wish to open the five-island-area for fishing again, because the divers are allowed to dive there but the fishermen are not allowed to fish there. Their focus on this one single issue does not allow much room for negotiation and alternative solutions.
They also need to understand that diving activities cause much less impact on the fish stocks and ecosystem than fishing activities. In addition to that, only professional dive operators are allowed in the area.
We will start a with a small-scale fisheries project in September. This project is aimed to rebuilt the small-scale fisheries in different countries in the Mediterranean. I will improve the involvement of fishermen in the management and decision-making of the MPA and in this way give them more say.”
Do you know if the fishermen lost income since the establishment of the MPA ?
“Their catch rates remained the same. Some of them moved away from fishing. They have side jobs now or work in the tourism sector, because they can earn more money there.”
How is the situation with the Greek fishermen who are allowed to catch marlin and grouper while Turkish fishermen are not allowed to do so?
“Unlike the Turkish fishermen, the Greek fishermen are allowed to catch marlin and grouper. However, they are not allowed to fish in our waters. but this is also a political issue. It happens that Greek fishermen from Kastelorizo island (Turkish name: “Meis”) come over to the five-island area for fishing or spear-fishing. However every time the coast guard catches them, they confiscate their gear.
Actually WWF Turkey tried to launch a project together with the fishermen from Kastelorizo and there was also interest from WWF Greece to collaborate, however it did not work as the Turkish and the Greek governments were not willing to approve it.”
If you had one wish about what should change to make marine conservation easier or more successful, what would it be?
“Well, living in Turkey and seeing all this change happening, my wish would be that people, both locals and people working in the government, would be more aware of the fact that nature is what we were born into and that nature is what we need.
I hope that everybody would start to realize this. Many people are not aware of the sea because they usually do not have the chance to see what’s beneath the surface, to see all the underwater life and beauty . I wish everyone would have the chance to see this and in this way learn to have more respect for marine life and feel the need to protect it.”
My personal conclusion
I find Kas-Kekova a very fascinating MPA with a variety of natural features and lots of potential. I could not help comparing it to Gökova MPA because I have been in both MPAs so shortly after another, and I have to admit that I have missed the inclusion of the fishermen into the MPA’s management as I had seen it in Gökova. However I have also learned in the meantime that every MPA is different and making comparisons like this might just lead to frustration, which is not my intention.
But I do not want to miss discussing the urgent points of Kas-Kekova MPA that in my opinion need rapid imrovement. I do not want to put a finger on somebody and complain, but rather put a spotlight on things that need urgent attention and action.
The situation with the fishermen is obviously far away from what it should be. Even taking into account that everybody paints his story in his own colours, most information I got from both sides, the fishermen and WWF, matched with each other and the following facts call for urgent action:
- At the moment, the enforcement of the no-fishing zones is not working 100%. The coast guard might be there sometimes, but they are also busy with other things. Additional patrols are not there at the moment due to a lack of funding.
- This means that, the fishermen might be the only people who respect the fishing ban in the restricted areas, which is a very bad deal for them
- So far the fishermen have not seen any benefits in form of increased catches. Which does not surprise if enforcement is not working. But this is actually one of the main ideas of an MPA: The fishermen respect the restricted areas, and in return, they should have a benefit from it, in terms of bigger fish stocks, a couple of years after the establishment of the no-take zones and respective enforcement
- There is no solution yet for the unbalanced situation with the Greek fishermen, which can practically fish all the marlins and the groupers, that the Turkish fishermen are not allowed to catch
In the hope to raise awareness and create action for the situation in Kas-Kekova and for other MPAs. Please feel free to write a comment and to discuss or to share this post.
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