Efforts to save the fish population in the Mediterranean waters off Israel’s coast are gaining momentum with the founding of a new organization called Save the Fish.
By Zafrir Rinat | Jul. 30, 2013

Efforts to save the fish population in the Mediterranean waters off Israel’s coast are gaining momentum with the founding of a new organization called Save the Fish and the intervention, for the first time, of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

The goal is to increase the pressure on the Agriculture Ministry to introduce reforms that will reduce the volume of fishing.

Save the Fish was founded this past year by divers, photographers, environmentalists and marine biologists under the auspices of the environmental nonprofit group called Sustainable Economy. Members met with experts and have distributed a petition calling to reduce the volume of fishing and to increase the monitoring of fishing vessels.

“We’re tired of hearing experts complain and explain that there’s a need for more research to understand what happens at sea,” said Ofer Elad, a leader of the new organization. “Anyone in the sea can see that life there is ending. The fish are dying because fishermen kill them, or because their natural environment is compromised.”

To deal with the crisis the activists are demanding that certain maritime areas be immediately declared nature reserves. “At the initial stage, it will provide havens and protection to the fish, enabling the populations to recover,” said Elad.

Group members also want the official sea-fishing season shortened. “This step has been taken in many countries, including Egypt,” said Elad.

Another step would be to reduce activity by trawlers (which drag large nets along the sea bed, sweeping up everything in their path), which is the main cause of dwindling fish stocks. Restricting trawlers will obligate the state to pay the ship owners compensation that could reach tens of millions of shekels, requiring the cooperation of the Finance Ministry.

“We also support restricting amateur fishing if necessary,” Elad added.

The total fish catch from the Mediterranean has declined dozens of percent over the past two decades, experts say, with the main reason being the increased volume of fishing which has undermined reproductive capacity of the species. While trawlers are the main culprits, sport and leisure fishing also causes damage. Amateur fishing is a more significant factor than commercial fishing in the dwindling population of some fish species, such as the grouper fish.

Israel continues to lag in implementing progressive policies to restrict fishing. It is the only country bordering on the Mediterranean that is not a member of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, which promotes policies to reduce fishing activity. A year ago, the Agriculture Ministry admitted that its Fisheries Department had failed to prevent damage to fish stocks in the Mediterranean.

Over the past year the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel has been trying to get the ministry to advance a reform of the fishing industry. The organization has recruited an international expert for this purpose. Prof. Andrew Rosenberg, a former deputy director of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, will arrive soon for an SPNI conference and meet with senior Agriculture Ministry officials.