Mustafa Sari

Doga Gözcüleri Dernegi (Nature Observers' Society)
Year founded: 


Through scientific research and awareness campaigns, Doga Gözcüleri Dernegi has helped reverse depleted fish stocks in Turkey’s Lake Van.

Focus: Enterprise Development, Environment
Geographic Area of Impact: Turkey
Model: Leveraged Non-Profit
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Turkey, 2006

Mustafa Sari’s work began in 1993, as a doctoral student studying the depletion of pearl mullet stock in Lake Van, Turkey’s largest lake. He was the first to study the lake's fish population, what was taken during fishing and how existing fishing practices impacted the lake population. It has been a great challenge to apply academic models to the complex realities of the lake's fishing community that depends upon its stock, while encouraging the application of sustainable practices to safeguard the fish supply for future generations.

Innovation and Activities
Few scientific studies had been conducted on Lake Van fish prior to Sari’s work, which determined the levels of fishing that could be sustainably harvested. In 1997, he estimated the lake contained approximately 43,000 tons of fish, of which no more than 8,500 tons could be annually fished to maintain sustainability. However, since 1987 over 10,000 tons a year were harvested, about 90% of which occurred during the spawning period. Despite the statistics and warnings about stock depletion, local fishermen were not willing to change their practices and governmental regulators were indifferent. Using scientific data, Sari tried to convince the government to take action by implementing fishing bans and a management programme, but after several years of bureaucratic wrangling, he realized a different approach was needed.

Together with two environmental experts, Sari framed a strategy for engaging a wider group of stakeholders, including fishermen and wholesalers. They began a national campaign to raise awareness of the depletion of Lake Van fish, and through Doga Gözcüleri Dernegi the campaign attempts to inform rather than blame those involved. It helps villagers recognize the problems they face and the solutions that can help them all save money and time. For example, in coordination with the University of Van, Sari set up a facility for satellite imagery, providing aerial photographs to offer fishermen new perspectives on issues like factory emissions that pollute the lake, significantly diminishing fish populations over a 10-year period.

Sari succeeded in applying scientific research tools to fishery management, while bringing together potentially conflicting views and interests of fishermen, local government and environmental NGOs. Since 1996, as a result of these efforts including establishing the Fisheries Faculty for education in Van, fish in Lake Van are larger in size than several years ago, and fishermen have experienced a three-fold increase in revenues since adopting sustainable practices.

The Entrepreneur
Mustafa Sari was born to illiterate farmers who raised their six children near the Black Sea. As a child he excelled in his studies, and an interest in science earned him entrance into Ankara University. There he was influenced by the emerging field of sustainable fishery management. The model he developed for Lake Van was accepted as a blueprint by the Ministry of Food Agriculture and Livestock for the management of all freshwater fisheries in Turkey. In 2002, his work was recognized by UNDP as one of the World’s Best Practices, and in 2004 he was awarded an Ashoka Fellowship. In 2011 he received the Science Award of the Year, from WBUMSF in Turkey.