The Agriculture Ministry has committed to reducing destructive trawling activity in the Mediterranean waters, according to elements of a fishing industry master plan unveiled by the office on Wednesday.

Environmental activists and fishermen have long been protesting the operation of large fishing trawlers along Israel’s coastline, arguing that their activity has diminished catches and ravaged protected species.

While compensating the trawl operators for their losses, the Agriculture Ministry’s master plan would require the use of smaller nets and force the trawlers to work farther from the shore.

In addition, ministry officials would examine the feasibility of incentivizing the trawler operators to leave their current businesses for the aquaculture industry.

Also part of the plan would be the designation of marine areas that are to be protected from fishing entirely, in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, as well as the differentiation between amateur and professional fishing licenses, the ministry said.

The long-term master plan, ministry officials said, was created in light of the office’s goals of providing high quality and healthy food products while bolstering the agriculture industry.

A critical component of this effort will be the establishment of a team of experts to formulate a new government policy for the development of the aquaculture industry and the designation of maritime spaces as national development zones, the ministry said.

Team members will explore how to remove regulatory barriers facing private developers, in order to facilitate the production of more quality protein sources and rely less on imports, the ministry added.

The Agriculture Ministry will also work in conjunction with the Economy Ministry to conduct economic and environmental assessments for terrestrial fish breeding facilities in the southern Arava, according to the master plan.

In addition, the Agriculture Ministry is investigating the wide-scale upgrade of fish pond infrastructure, although such rehabilitation would required an investment of NIS 120 million, the ministry said.

In response to the Agriculture Ministry’s presentation of a fishing industry master plan, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel expressed concern that only elements, rather than detailed portions, of the plans were released.

Earlier this year, in collaboration with several marine environmental and fishing groups, SPNI launched a Fishing Responsibly campaign that insisted upon the need for a fishing reform.

Such a reform would require a budget of up to NIS 10m. per year and would ban trawling practices, the campaign said.

The 22 trawlers operating along Israel’s coast cause the deaths of about 100,000 protected animals annually, and also kill young fish that have not yet had the chance to proliferate, according to the campaign.

“It is evident that there is no real line here regarding fishing in the Mediterranean, or the fishermen who rely on it,” a statement from SPNI said.

SPNI specifically criticized the Agriculture Ministry for failing to specify how much money would be invested in strengthening the Mediterranean fishing industry.

In addition, SPNI slammed the plan for not detailing to what extent the trawling activities will be reduced and how the ministry intends to enforce these new rules.

“The Society for the Protection of Nature calls upon the Agriculture Ministry to publish a comprehensive, multi-year plan, backed by a budget, so that significant and substantial changes in the management of Mediterranean fisheries will be implemented after [the] years of neglect that led to the current predicament in the sea,” the SPNI said.

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