Kinneret fish
Kinneret fishermen on the lake’s. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Nearly a year after a two-year prohibition against fishing in Lake Kinneret was to have come into effect in order to prevent "an ecological disaster" due to overfishing, the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee yesterday decided to limit the ban to just four months a year.

Instead of a blanket moratorium on fishing in the lake for two years, fishing will be barred only from April 15 to August 15, the spawning season of the lake's tilapia populations.

In easing the fishing ban, the committee adopted recommendations presented to it on Tuesday by a committee of experts headed by the Chief Scientist of the Agriculture Ministry's chief scientist, Dr. Yuval Ashdot, and Dr. Yeshayahu Bar-On, deputy director general for natural resources of the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The panel was charged with determining the ecological state of the Kinneret and assessing the implications of the ban. The ban was scheduled to go into effect last March but was postponed.

The committee of experts noted during yesterday's Knesset committee session that its work was hampered by a significant lack of data on the state of fishing and water quality in the Kinneret.

The recommendation constitutes a victory for the lake's fishermen, who for the past year have been battling the proposed moratorium.

"Our fight paid off and justice has been served. It's a day of joy for fisherman," Ya'akov Fadida, chairman of the Tiberias Fishermen's Organization, said yesterday.

In January 2010, when then-Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon announced the comprehensive Kinneret fishing ban that was to have begun on March 1 of that year, he 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."

According to Agriculture Ministry figures, over the past decade the fishing catch from the Kinneret declined by tens of percentage points every year to its current, critically low levels.

In 1999 the annual catch was about 2,144 tons, but in 2009 that figure dropped to less than 157 tons.

In addition to recommending the four-month fishing ban, the committee of experts proposed using non-injurious methods to reduce the presence of cormorant sea birds in and around the Kinneret. Representatives of the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel said in response that reducing the population of the fish-loving birds in the lake would not have a significant affect on the fishing because they preferred species other than the critically overfished mango tilapia (musht, or St. Peter's fish ).

The experts' committee also recommended banning the use of fine-mesh fishing nets in the lake, which catch fish before they reach the reproductive stage, as well as the use of poison to extract fish.