Israel plans to impose restrictions on fishing in the Mediterranean Sea starting next week in an effort to enable the local fish population to replenish itself.
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The new rules will include limiting the areas where fishing trawlers are permitted to operate, and the months of the year in which they are allowed to do so.
Some fishermen call the measures unjustifiable and say they will wreak havoc on the industry.
The new policy was reported this week by the State Prosecutor’s Office in response to a High Court petition by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel against the chief fishing official in the Agriculture Ministry. The SPNI demanded to know why the official did not impose restrictions on fishing as a condition for issuing the new annual fishing licenses, rather than waiting for specific regulations to be approved by the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee.
The SPNI focused primarily on restrictions for trawlers, which operate using large nets that are dragged along the sea floor. The petitioner claims that this is a major hazard to the fish population of the Mediterranean, which has difficulty breeding and replenishing after these vessels do their work.
Responding to the petition, the state said that in addition to pushing for the approval of the regulations, restrictions have been added to the licenses for 2016. Trawlers will be forbidden to use balls, tires, wheels or other accessories to facilitate the dragging of nets across rocks.
In addition, trawlers will be forbidden to operate in waters less than 40 meters deep during the fish breeding season, in April and May, when the fish are generally found in shallower waters. The trawlers will be banned from working altogether from June through August, when young fish make their way from the shallower waters to deeper waters.
The regulations the Agriculture Ministry is seeking to get approved will impose additional restrictions, including a permanent ban on trawlers operating at depths of less than 40 meters, while no fishing of any kind will be permitted during the breeding season.
The High Court this week gave the Agriculture Ministry three months to push the approval of the new fishing regulations through the Economic Affairs Committee. Once they are passed, all annual fishing licenses will be adapted to the new restrictions. The court will hold another hearing in three months to check on the regulations’ progress.
“This is an important step forward, and the first time a fishing interface will be conducted in Israel’s Mediterranean Sea,” said Alon Rothschild, the SPNI’s biological diversity coordinator. “Still, it isn’t clear why the state isn’t already implementing the norms it established in the regulations in the 2016 licenses. The gap between the regulations and the licenses will be paid by sea turtles and the grouper fish. The restrictions in the licenses are not sufficient to protect the fish stocks and the natural maritime assets.”
Uri Sharon, who owns a fishing trawler, said the new Agriculture Ministry restrictions would destroy the fishing industry. “The claims of damage caused by the trawlers are false,” he said. “The fish at risk are found in areas where trawlers don’t operate. These restrictions will not allow the industry to continue to exist.”
Sharon stressed that fishermen do not categorically reject restrictions aimed at allowing various fish species to regenerate and increase. “There can be a ban on fishing for a few months, as in other Mediterranean countries, but it would be better to do this gradually and evaluate the results,” he said.