Hamsi, or Turkish anchovies, are rarely observed in their natural habitat, but Turkish Underwater Sports Federation Board of Environment Chair and underwater director Tahsin Ceylan was able to capture them on film for the first time in the waters of the Black Sea.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Ceylan explained that hamsi is a pelagic fish species that lives in the pelagic zones of oceans or lakes, inhabiting areas neither close to the bottom nor near the shore.
Noting that the popular fish is a limited resource, he said hamsi makes up 73 percent of the total amount of fish consumed in Turkey and should be protected.
"Hamsi eats plankton, which are a diverse collection of organisms that live in large bodies of water and are unable to swim against currents. Hamsi goes where the nutrition is. It is very difficult to determine where hamsi will be and why they're so hard to photograph."
Noting that plankton is sensitive to pollution, he continued: "Hydroelectric power plants on the shores of the Black Sea as well construction for things like highways and industrial or domestic pollution on the shores all negatively affect hamsi. Changing climate conditions are very important in determining hamsi's survival. The reason why numbers are low this year is due to the fish's sensitivity to heat. They prefer the cold waters in the Black Sea in the winter. If the sea is too warm, they swim to Georgia's shores, bypassing Turkey."
While discussing his hamsi adventures with his colleagues Murat Kulakaç and Hakan Yıldız, Ceylan said they were able to observe hamsi fisherman one morning in the harsh conditions.
They used special equipment to capture impressive images during a fishing trip that took them 30 miles off Pazar district in Rize province. "I went into the net to catch the life-and-death struggle of the fish. While the net was closing, I was able to escape with the help of my friend Kulakaç. It is so important to archive this struggle despite the risks," the chair said.
"As long as we protect them and show them respect, they will continue to exist. While some people say the fish suffer, I say, 'You shouldn't make them suffer.' Citizens should trust scientists and do what they suggest."
Ceylan said protected areas should be established in Turkish seas, and treatment facilities for environmental waste should be built as soon as possible.
Professor Ali Cemal Gücü, an academic at Middle East Technical University (METU) Marine Sciences Institute, explained why the number of hamsi fluctuates to such an extent.
Stressing this imbalance could be environmentally related, Gücü added, "Hamsi's ever-changing migratory routes and winter grounds affect their numbers greatly."
"Hamsi, spawning in the Danube or Donau, reach the shores of Turkey after the temperature of the water decreases enough for them to survive, passing Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. However, they often winter near Georgian or Crimean shores without visiting Turkish shores even if the temperature difference between the north and south of the Black Sea isn't high. We also surprisingly see that the heat and nourishment in our shores in the summer are important for them. This allows the fish to spend the summer in the Black Sea instead of returning to the Danube. In this aspect, the fertility of Turkey's shores is important for hamsi stock.
Hydroelectric power plants on every stream and brook block nutrients from flowing from rivers to the sea, which adversely affects the development of baby hamsi," the professor said.