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Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon yesterday banned all fishing in Lake Kinneret for two years, in order to prevent "an ecological disaster" as a result of overfishing. The order, which will force the removal from the lake of all 70 registered fishing boats, is to go into effect on March 1.

Area fishermen yesterday expressed their opposition to the measure. Eitan Abo stood at the Tiberias marina, watching the torrential rain lashing the lake. He has been a fisherman for 35 years, carrying on the tradition of his father and his grandfather.

Abo told Haaretz that he felt like crying when he heard about the ban. "This will just ruin us, in a live broadcast. The entire country is going to watch how the 40 families who depend for their livelihood on these boats will lose everything we've got. What are we going to do now, start stealing? Are they going to give us any compensation? I live from the lake, I don't know anything else," Abo said, adding that the ministry did not consult with or notify the fishermen before issuing the announcement.

Ministry officials said yesterday that they had expected some opposition from the fishermen. Explaining the decision, Simhon said he recognized that the state "couldn't stand idly by as the most important water source in the country is collapsing. National responsibility dictates significant moves to guarantee a sustainable ecosphere in the lake."

Simhon asked Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz yesterday to allocate NIS 15 million for enforcement, for compensation and for research and restocking programs.

"Data collected by my ministry's Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture shows that the numbers of fish in the lake have been dropping by tens of percentage points every year for the last decade, particularly in the past two years, and is now at a critical level," Simhon wrote to Steinitz.

A fishing ban on Tuesdays has been in effect for two years.

Illegal practices

The situation is exacerbated by illegal practices such as poisoning, fishing out of season and in spawning areas, and using nets with a finer mesh than allowed in order to catch fish before they have a change to reproduce.

Ministry officials said it was difficult to prosecute those who poison the water and then collect the dead fish, since they would must be caught in the act. The first conviction for this crime in Israel came only late in 2009.

Simchon said the fishing ban was necessary to ensure the fishermen's future livelihood as well as to maintain the lake's ecological balance, but they are not convinced. "It's true there aren't as many fish as there used to be, but we get what we get. This ban is going to kill us outright," Abo said. "If they only stocked the lake properly with fingerlings, everything would be fine. Do they want to turn the Kinneret into a nature reserve? People have to earn a living."