Fishermen in Turkey, poachers in Romania

Ioana Calinescu
I’ve always wondered what the poachers on the Turkish fishing vessels displaying random flags and being summoned with hundreds of gunshots by the Romanian border police look like. Judging by the news in Romania, the scenario is always the same. The Turkish poachers swaggeringly wave the Ukrainian or Romanian flag hoping to pass unnoticed, the Romanian frontier policemen ‘pick up their scent’ and summon them by machine guns until they surrender themselves, but not before throwing overboard most of the game. In the end, everybody goes home, except for the captains who get to be investigated.

Well, I had the chance to meet them in the little harbour of Kiyiköy where several fishing vessels (exceeding the entire Romanian fleet) kept rocking and I couldn’t help thinking of our fishermen who seem to have descended from the Prehistoric Era with their warped boats as if made from one single tree trunk. The fishing nets lay nicely piled up in the sun, the barracks, where the fish was unloaded, looked spick and span and the fishermen were sipping tea after tea gazing into the distance. There was a sea storm and the weather didn’t seem to improve sooner than three, four days. Cheerful and eager to chat, they pulled their chairs around us and started to ask us about our life, clinging on to their boss, the only speaker of English in the entire harbour.

When we mentioned Romania, I was positive their faces would light up and they’d nod their heads in delight: ‘Hagi, Hagi. Lucescu.’ Well, I was about to have the biggest surprise of my life. They started to grin to one another and exchange cheerful glances. Some of them got to their feet and held out their wrists joined together. ‘Virtually everybody here has spent a few days in the Romanian prisons for poaching’, their boss translates and adds that his own brother got some time in the Romanian nick last spring. The time spent there doesn’t seem to have had any traumatizing effect on any of them; actually, judging by their grinning faces and the warm, puckish looks thrown our way (as if to their younger, dumb friends who got screwed over), they see it as a very successful prank. And they did get screwed over, because, while their Bulgarian and Romanian neighbours are fighting at the European Commission for dividing the brill fishing quotas, they poach it like crazy and sell it on the black market in Istanbul for 30-40 Euros/kg.

Amidst that morning’s peacefulness and the general giggle, a firm and vigorous ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ rose above it all, triggering an explosion of exhilaration among the fishermen. Their boss plucked our sleeves and invited us into his floor-tiled office (with a heap of registers on his desk) where an old man was knotting some fishing nets and on a cupboard a white, red-combed rooster reigned. ‘That’s our clock’ he says, at which the fishermen burst out laughing.

We passed by there the following day. The rooster was gone. Apparently, it had been only a day’s joke induced by the fishermen’s boredom on a day with a stormy sea.