Environment News: How many centimetres is yours?

CATCHY slogan. A bit reminiscent of the anti-smoking lobby’s “no-one will think big of you” and the raised little finger, but in this case it’s actually about tailor. Not tailor here in Australia, but tailor in Turkey, where they’re known in English as “bluefish”, same as in the USA.

In Turkey, tailor are much loved both as a sportfishing target and as tucker. Istanbul fishermen are fanatical, and on any day hundreds line the banks and bridges of the Bosphorous with long rods, jigs, bait, fish buckets and rod holders. Mobile tackle and bait sellers station themselves every few hundred metres and food vendors wander past with various varieties of snacks and drinks.

Most of the year these anglers have to be satisfied with yellowtail and mullet, but each August there’s a run of bonito followed by tailor in September. But sadly the tailor are getting smaller. At fish market stalls, you’ll generally see a mix of good sized common sea bream (a close relative of our snapper), gilthead bream (an outsized tarwhine clone), sea bass (wild caught and farmed), and very, very small tailor….often less than 10cm. But they’re so popular, even these little examples sell for more per kilo than the previously mentioned species, which to me taste absolutely great.

They can sell these fish because Turkey’s fisheries management philosophy is quite different to ours. Sure, there are nowhere as many fish to target there as here, but their basic approach has been to have a total ban on commercial netting from May to September each year and not to worry about minimum sizes for individual species. Stocks get a rest each year from the pros’ attention, and that coincides with the Turkish summer, reducing the likelihood of holiday maker / commercial fishermen conflict. And yes, they also have some marine reserves and no-take zones.

The wild bream and sea bass on sale at markets and restaurants are generally good size … several kilos and up to 70cm … and they’re supplemented by smaller fish of the same species from local sea farms. But the poor tailor are generally pitifully small.

Hence the “how many centimetres is yours?” campaign. Its initial objective is to get a 24 cm minimum size limit put on tailor, and then to move on to other wild species currently marketed at very small sizes, such as red mullet. There’s a clever website (unfortunately in Turkish only) pushing the case. And it’s not an anglers’ group that’s invented the campaign and is pushing the cause: it’s Greenpeace, Turkey.

Which I reckon should make us think about a couple of things. One is that organised Green groups don’t have to be the “enemy.” Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) clearly form coalitions of interest with anglers in other countries to pursue outcomes beneficial to both fishing and non-fishing conservationists. The second is that our fisheries managers could benefit by looking harder at simple, national fish conservation measures, rather than reinventing the wheel every time a government changes federally or in the states and territories.

No commercially netting at all, anywhere, for five months of spring and summer: has an elegant simplicity to it, doesn’t it?

John Newbery is Environment Editor for Fishing World.

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