People have been fishing on Lake Kinneret since before the days of Jesus, but on
Sunday, the Agriculture Ministry announced it would stop issuing fishing
licenses for the famous body of water for two years, starting January
RELATED:Cabinet set to ban fishing in Kinneret for 2 years
The decision, which was approved by the cabinet in April, will forbid
all fishing on the Kinneret and on all rivers emptying into it in an effort to
preserve wildlife and the water quality in the rapidly depleting lake. Local
fishermen claim the decision unfairly benefits commercial fisheries and have
vowed to carry on fishing no matter what the cost.
According to the
Agriculture Ministry, the cabinet decision was reached in light of ministry data
indicating that the number of fish in the Kinneret had dropped substantially
over the past decade, and in particular in the past two years. The ministry has
attributed part of the decline to overfishing and the use of poison by some
According to the Water Authority, the lake’s drastically lower
water level has also contributed.
“The data raised serious concerns of an
ecological disaster that would take place, turning the Kinneret into a lake
completely devoid of fish. The fishing ban is necessary in light of the public
interest in maintaining sustainable fishing in the Kinneret in order to support
an ecological balance and to enable a reasonable livelihood for fishermen in the
years to come,” said ministry spokeswoman Dafna Yurista.
Yurista, the ministry is currently working on an aid package to reimburse
fishermen who can prove a loss of income.
According to Kinneret and Eilat
Fishing Union chairman Ya’acov Fadida, 140 members of the union make their
living from fishing the lake, while another 60 or 70 have licenses to
The overall cost of the decision is budgeted at NIS 5.7 million
annually for the two years of the license freeze.
An additional NIS
500,000 will be requested in 2011 to help fishermen buy new equipment and
upgrade their boats after the freeze is lifted.
“This decision will
benefit the real fishermen who fish for their livelihood, since it will cause
the rehabilitation of the fish population in the Kinneret and ensure them
incomes in the future,” said Chaim Anjoni, director of the fishing division in
the Ministry of Agriculture.
The penalty for anyone caught fishing while
the ban is in place is a NIS 1,000 fine and the confiscation of boats and
The decision was met with anger and disappointment by
Israel’s commercial fishermen, who claim that the facts do not justify the
decision, which will harm not only the fishermen but the Kinneret’s entire
“Tourists who come to the Kinneret want to eat fish
that swam in its holy waters,” said Menachem Lev, director of fishing operations
at Ein Gev, a kibbutz on the shores of the Kinneret.
“If there is no
fishing allowed, what’s the point of coming? They can eat artificial
fishpond-grown fish or imported fish anywhere,” Lev said. “They come here to eat
‘holy fish,’ descendents of the ones caught by Jesus and his
Lev also disputed the Agriculture Ministry’s claims of a
decline in the Kinneret’s fish population.
“I have been working on the
Kinneret every day for the past 31 years, both fishing and leading fishing tour
groups,” said Lev. “There has been no natural disaster and there is no shortage
You can say you heard that from the ‘fishing doctor’ of the
Lev blamed politics for the fishing license
“[The ministry was] pressured into it by lobbyists and the only
ones to gain from it are those kibbutzim that own artificial fishponds and now
have no competition,” he complained. “Our kibbutz has been fishing in the
Kinneret for 71 years, since the kibbutz was established. We run proper books
and would likely receive compensation, but I’m telling you that I won’t stop
fishing no matter how much compensation I receive.”
chairman of Israfish, the Israeli sport fishing association, said it was unfair
that only those who earned their livelihoods directly from fishing would receive
“The commercial fishermen, or at least the small minority
of them who keep proper books, may receive a stipend to compensate their losses,
but what about the people who own fishing equipment stores?,” he complained.
“What about those who pursue freshwater fishing as a hobby? What about the
fishing competitions that are just starting to catch on? This is a bad
Mazlin founded Israfish together with friends and fellow
fishing enthusiasts in 2004. Since then, the association has held yearly
competitions on the Kinneret that, according to Mazlin, are beginning to grow in
“A majority of our members are immigrants from the former
Soviet Union,” he explained. “We use fishing as a means to integrate them into
Israeli society. We hold local competitions several times a year, and in January
we were supposed to hold an international carp-fishing competition, with
representatives from seven countries.
Now, because of the decision, we’ll
have to cancel and who knows if we’ll ever get a chance to do it
According to Mazlin, the ministry’s decision dealt a blow to an
emerging sports phenomenon in Israel.
“In the past few years we have been
growing in numbers and gaining popularity,” he said. “The Kinneret is a great
place for carp fishing and we are beginning to see international interest in
Mazlin said that earlier this year, he had been
approached by British tour operators interested in a tourism initiative that
would bring anglers from the UK to the Kinneret. “For them it’s great because
it’s a new fishing spot and one that has the added value of a rich and unique
history and surroundings, and for Israel it’s great because it means additional
tourists,” he said. “Unfortunately, we had to give up on the idea once we heard
about the ban.”
Mazlin added that he knew of at least three equipment
store owners who said they would close their shops because of the
“Overall, we estimate the damage to the sports fishing industry
at roughly NIS 15 million,” he said.
In response, Agriculture Ministry
spokeswoman Yurista said she failed to see a strong connection between the
license freeze and tourism. She noted that fishing from shore, which doesn’t
require a license, would be allowed to continue for the time being.