16/04/2010 02:16

Dangerously few fish left, according to Agriculture Ministry; Fishermen decry decision.

The water levels of Lake Kinneret are receding, but there is little need to worry about finding dead fish on the bottom when the lake dries up – the fish will be gone long before then, if business continues as usual.

As the lake’s fish population – sardines, mullets and tilapia – has dwindled radically in the last couple of years, government officials have decided to take drastic action. The Agriculture and Environmental Protection ministries are set ask the cabinet this Sunday to outlaw fishing in Lake Kinneret for two years, beginning within the next three months.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, the number of fish in the lake has dropped significantly in the last decade and especially over the last two years – so much so that there is now a significant chance that Lake Kinneret will cease to have fish in it at all if fishing continues as usual.

If that were to happen, it would represent an ecological disaster and negatively affect water quality as well, according to the Water Authority.

The Agriculture Ministry has attributed part of the decrease to overfishing and mass poisoning. The drastically lower water level of the lake in recent years has also contributed to the decrease, the Water Authority believes.

Seabirds such as cormorants have also taken a share of the fish, and the proposed decision lays the groundwork for creating a plan to deal with them as well.

A professional committee set up to look into the matter submitted its findings earlier this year and recommended prohibiting fishing for two years as the best way to rehabilitate the lake and its schools of fish. The two-year freeze should be enough time to renew the schools and to develop a policy of sustainable fishing for the future.

Fishing will also be prohibited in the part of the Jordan River that drains into the Kinneret and the other streams that drain into the lake.

A number of other options were considered, including prohibiting fishing half the week or restricting fishing to certain areas, but officials decided those options were less enforceable than a blanket ban.

According to Kinneret and Eilat Fishing Union chairman Ya’acov Fadida, there are 140 fishermen who are part of the union and make their living from fishing the lake, and another 60 or 70 with licenses to fish. They will be compensated for the entire period of the freeze, according to a copy of the proposed decision.

Those whose main source of income is fishing will be offered retraining in other professions, as well as financial compensation. Those who fish part-time will be offered financial compensation.

The overall cost of the decision is budgeted at NIS 5.7 million annually for the two years of the freeze. An additional NIS 500,000 will be requested in 2011 to help the fishermen buy new equipment and upgrade their boats after the freeze is lifted, according to the decision.

Fadida told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that the union emphatically rejected the financial offers.

“I do not accept that decision. What is NIS 2,000?” he asked, referring to one of the amounts mentioned as monthly compensation in the proposal.

“For a family of five or six, what can you do with NIS 2,000? Pay the electricity bill? We don’t want compensation, we want to work,” he declared angrily.

“I suggested giving us some of the other water reservoirs around the country instead so that we can fish,” he said.

Fadida said the union had a meeting scheduled with Treasury representatives and the director-general of the Agriculture Ministry at the end of the month to discuss compensation. He said the union was still willing to negotiate rather than hold protests or go on strike.

Fadida also derided the plan to close the Kinneret to fishing.

“Where’s the plan to rehabilitate the sea during those two years? I have not seen a single plan at the Agricultural Ministry that lays out what should be done,” he added.

Fadida also mentioned how much damage the cormorants had done to fishing. He laid the blame for the decrease in fish on neglect by the Agriculture Ministry, and environmental factors like the birds.

The cabinet is also set to discuss on Sunday a NIS 400m. proposed decision, crafted by the Environmental Protection Ministry and the National Infrastructures Ministry, to provide sewage solutions to the last 150 IDF bases that do not treat their sewage sufficiently.

The NIS 400m. will be spread out over five years. The Defense Ministry will cover NIS 50m. per year, and the Environmental Protection Ministry will cover NIS 30m., which will be a loan to the Defense Ministry.

The new arrangement solves one of the sticking points that emerged between the two ministries when the proposed decision was negotiated in February.