Ministry to bar boat-based anglers from Kinneret

Fishermen say that the two-year freeze beginning in January will harm livelihoods as well as tourism.

November 15, 2010 02:43
Fishing in the Kinneret

kinneret fishing. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

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 1.

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.

Cabinet set to ban fishing in Kinneret for 2 years

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 anglers.

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.

According to 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 fish.

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 fishing equipment.

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 tourism industry.

“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 disciples.”

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 of fish.

You can say you heard that from the ‘fishing doctor’ of the Kinneret.”

Lev blamed politics for the fishing license freeze.

“[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.”

Andrey Mazlin, chairman of Israfish, the Israeli sport fishing association, said it was unfair that only those who earned their livelihoods directly from fishing would receive compensation.

“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 decision.”

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 popularity.

“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 again.”

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 fishing tourism.”

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 decision.

“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.

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