CULTURE

Fish reserves dangerously low in Cyclades

Fsh reserves in Greek seas, and especially in the Cyclades, are among the lowest in the Mediterranean, according to scientists, who attribute the dwindling numbers to overfishing, illegal practices such as dynamite fishing, gaps in legislation and the state?s failure to implement the existing laws.

These are among some of the conclusions outlined in a recent study by Pierre-Yves Cousteau of the Cousteau Institute, National Geographic researcher and hydrobiologist Enric Sala, and Sylvaine Giakoumi, a researcher at the Aegean University.

Within the context of her doctoral research, Giakoumi gathered some interesting evidence concerning the marine reserves of the Cyclades as well as valuable information from the islanders themselves.

?From all the fishermen we asked, 98 percent said that there has been a dramatic decrease in reserves,? Giakoumi told Kathimerini. ?A number of them are even willing to stop fishing in order to protect the existing population.?

The solution, according to the three experts, is to create marine parks in which fishing will be banned, giving populations time to mature and multiply, along the lines of the marine park in the Northern Sporades, which was created to protect the Mediterranean monk seal.

Such programs in other parts of the world have yielded impressive results, according to the study, which said that in the 124 marine parks created in 29 countries, the average growth in biodiversity has been 21 percent, in the size of living organisms, 28 percent, and in the number of organisms per square meter, 166 percent.

Marine parks may be invaluable in terms of protecting fish populations, but they also significantly restrict the scope of activity of local fishermen who depend on fishing for their livelihoods.

There is an upside though, according to Sala. ?As soon as fishing stops, fish populations explode within a short period of time,? he said, adding that fish travel further outside the bounds of the marine parks once they grow in size or their numbers make it harder for them to get food. ?This means that fishermen working outside the parks get great catches,? Sala said.

Giakoumi further notes that marine parks could also go a long way toward boosting Greece as a destination for divers.

?Divers are interested in seeing plenty of life and big fish. Diving tourism in other parts of the Mediterranean has created new job opportunities and revenues that can be up to 20 times higher than those generated by fishing,? she said.

The three scientists have already put together a team of local fishermen in the Cycladic islands who are in favor of the idea of marine parks, and are drawing up a proposal for a marine park to be created off Santorini, in the area between Kamari and Perissa. The Cousteau Dive Center is already located in Kamari and could play a vital role in keeping the park operating properly.

Sala insists that the marine park does not need to be particularly big.

?In the Spanish Medes Islands, the marine park is just 1 square kilometer in size, but there are so many fish there that divers come from all over the world to see what the Mediterranean looked like 100 years ago. This 1 square kilometer has created 200 jobs and brings in profits of 6 million euros a year,? Sala said.