Unknown virus is killing Tilapia population in Sea of Galilee; experts say future impact on lake’s eco-system unknown

Published: 07.30.12

An unknown virus is threatening the population of St. Peter’s fish (Tilapia) in Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

The virus, which has yet to be identified, is causing the fish to go blind, therefore inhibiting their ability to search for food and causing them to starve to death.

According to an expert report, the mysterious disease has been plaguing the Kinneret’s Tilapia for a decade, but some unknown factor has recently caused it to become an epidemic.

Fishery and veterinarian experts are unsure of the cause, but say that the disease has not stopped the fishing or marketing of the St. Peter’s fish. Some concerns have also been raised as to the fact that the virus’ effect on the lake’s eco-system is still unknown.

St. Peter’s Fish, which derives its name for the New Testament story of the feeding of the multitude (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15) is considered sacred by Christians.

Restaurants on the shores of the Sea of Galilee are said to be serving over 300,000 fish dinners to pilgrims every year.

The virus, it seems, has recently begun to spread, and is now affecting some fish ponds in the Hula Valley, where the Jordan River tilapia, silver carp, carp, and mullet are farmed.

According to a recent report, 12-15% of the fish in the lake have already contracted the disease.

Since the virus has yet to be identified, is it also unknown what effect – if any – it has on humans. All that is known at this point is that it is a viral nervous necrosis type virus.

The Agriculture Ministry has tasked a team of experts to research the disease, and they are – in concert with other countries – currently conducting tests and experiments meant to fully identify the lethal virus and develop both a cure and a vaccine.