(photo credit: )
A Tel Aviv man has been fined NIS 20,000 by the Eilat Magistrate's Court for illegal fishing in Eilat Bay.
Dror Yehezkeli was caught with more than 30 protected organisms, including four "Abu Nafcha" fish, 13 sea urchins, 15 sea snails and three brittle-stars.
At his sentencing July 12, he was ordered to pay the NIS 20,000 fine, or face 100 days in prison.
Noam Mashi, an inspector with the Nature Protection Authority, and Sgt. Benny Ya'acovi from the police's environment department, caught the offender.
"The event took place in April 2008," Mashi said. "On a surveillance tour of the northern beach in Eilat with Sgt. Benny Ya'acovi... I noticed a man reeling in things from the water and putting them in buckets. Beside the buckets was professional equipment.
"Despite the citizen's resistance, and with the help of the police officer, I managed to examine the contents of the buckets and I was shocked at the sight of the huge quantity of protected organisms that he had taken from the water.
"I am glad we got there in time... after we photographed the organisms we returned them to nature, in the hope that no damage will be caused to them in the future."
According to Omri Gal, a spokesperson for the Nature Protection Authority, illegal fishing in Eilat is a serious problem, "but not as big as it used to be... we keep it in check but we still find now and then cases of people trying to fish out of Eilat Bay, taking both fish and corals.
"Usually we find them with just a few," explained Gal, "and you get the sense that people know they are doing something illegal but want to bring it to their own aquarium at home. Usually there's a fine, NIS 650 shekels.
"There was a decision that in cases involving more natural value, when we suspect that they [the violators] tried to pull them [the organisms] out not in order to keep them but to sell them, we file criminal charges."
This, he said, is a large part of the reason why Yehezkeli received such a large fine.
"The judge took notice of the number of items.... 35, 40 and we caught him in the middle," said Gal. "The number of items, and that he had a fishing rod and net... he was well equipped. It's not something he did on the way, it's something he planned. He came well organized, with buckets and everything."
Still, said Gal, this is "not the highest fine [the judge] could mete out - the highest he could have put is around NIS 50,000 for each item, but if I compare it to other sentences, this is higher than the fines that people get for hunting."
Gal believes that the judge was "absolutely" trying to send a message.
"The judge understands that this [nature] is what Eilat is based on, if everyone who comes decides to rip out a few items to take home or to sell [it will be destroyed]."
He also says that Eilat residents have come to realize the value of their environment.
"The people who live in Eilat today understand the real value of the nature there. We [the NPA] have full cooperation. The man we caught was a Tel Avivian... We hardly get people from Eilat doing that."
Doron Nissim, head of the Eilat division of the Nature Protection Authority, said that, "We must welcome the fine that was given, which is high relative to fines that have been given in the past for incidents of damage to organisms," and that he hopes that this decision is indicative of the strictness with which courts will deal with similar violations.
"The place of the fish, stars, slugs... and all organisms in Eilat Bay is in the sea, and not in an aquarium," Nissim said.