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Turkey: Black Sea Pollution Depletes Fishing Stocks

Trabzon, Turkey; 3 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Government officials, parliamentarians and representatives of non-governmental organizations are due to meet for two days in Istanbul starting Thursday (Nov. 5) in a conference aimed at reducing tensions among the Black Sea littoral states over the Sea's ecology.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)has organized the international conference in cooperation with the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Council. OSCE spokesman Walter Kemp in Vienna told RFE/RL this week that among the issues to be discussed is, in his words, "the uneven implementation of international accords intended to clean up the rivers" that flow into the Black Sea from 17 countries..

The largest of them, the Danube, empties into the Black Sea 203 cubic kilometers of fresh water annually, about 40 percent of all the river water flowing into the Sea. But the Danube is heavily polluted with effluents from Central Europe, the Balkans and the Carpathian basin.

The collapse of the Soviet empire and the economic difficulties and territorial conflicts of the successor states has meant that at least one-third of the sewage flowing into the Black Sea is unprocessed. The result has been public health problems, closed beaches and depleted fish stocks.

Sewage is not the only problem. A recent article in the Moscow bi-monthly Kontinent noted that 100,000 tons of oil from spills flow into the Black Sea every year from the littoral states.

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry considers its portion of the Black Sea as one of the most endangered eco-systems in the country. It notes that untreated sewage, pesticides and toxic waste dumps have wiped out several species of fish and wildlife. The pollutants also contribute to high rates of asthma and tuberculosis and to outbreaks of cholera along the coast.

A Russian expedition last year found that concentrations of Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 in bottom sediments near two of the toxic waste dumps were dozens of times above normal levels. The ministry organized another 20-day expedition last summer to measure pollution levels and locate toxic waste dumps near the Black Sea. Eight known toxic dumps exist along the Sea's Russian coastline.

Turkey sees itself as a victim of other states' pollution. The country's more than 1,000 kilometers of densely populated Black Sea coastline has traditionally depended on fishing for a part of its livelihood. But in recent years fish stocks have been severely depleted.

Turkish marine ecologist Ferit Candeger, who earlier this year retired from the Oceanographic Faculty of the Black Sea Technical University in Trabzon, now runs a professional fishing tackle shop on Trabzon's waterfront.

Candeger says some species of fish, such as swordfish, tuna and mackerel, have disappeared entirely. They have either died off or fled pollution by swimming through the Turkish Straits and resettling in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. He says stocks of other fish, such as Black Sea anchovies (hamsi), bonito (palamut), gray mullet (tapan kefal) as well as turbot, ray and other flat fish, have decreased markedly. Candeger says hamsi stocks are currently about 70 percent below the levels of 15 years ago.

Hamsi anchovies were once a seasonal staple of the Black Sea diet as they swam counter-clockwise around the Black Sea from their main breeding grounds off Odessa, arriving at the main trawling area off Trabzon every November. Candeger says the water around Trabzon is still relatively clean, although much household garbage continues to be dumped into the sea, clogging fishing nets.

Candeger says the blame for the fall in fish stocks near Trabzon lies elsewhere:

"Effluents from factories in Bulgaria, Romania and the former Soviet Union have killed off the plankton in the Black Sea that the hamsi, bonito and other (fish) fed on."

Candeger says the result has been a reduction in the stocks of the most popular fish on Turkey's Black Sea coast. That, he adds, has sent prices soaring. Although many fishermen have moved to Turkey's Mediterranean coast, where the stocks of tuna and other big fish remain plentiful, many more people have gone into the fishing business in Trabzon in the hope of making money from the higher prices for scarce fish. Demand for these fish is modest in Trabzon and most of the catch is exported to Western Europe. The result, Candeger says, is too many fishermen and ever smaller catches.