Israeli Thieves Target Fisheries to Make Pesach Gefilte Fish

Millions of shekels being lost in revenue as agricultural thefts go uncaught.

Just as sheep and calf thefts spike before Ramadan, holiday sees a rise in thefts of sheep and calves, the seder and intermediate days of Passover bring a spike in thefts of tilapia and carp for gefilte fish.

On Monday morning, police caught four Tiberias residents aged 25 to 31 who had stolen more than half a ton of tilapia from fisheries at Kibbutz Neveh Or in the Beit She'an Valley.

Chief Superintendent Avi Algarisi, of the Amakim District police, said officers under his command spotted two vehicles, one clearing a path for the other, which was carrying the booty. The four people involved in the attempted heist were detained, and the slippery cargo was returned to its owners.

Chief Inspector Itay Ya'akov, head of the Border Police's Erez unit for combating agricultural theft, said this was a small-scale incident relative to previous robberies.

Yair Ben Shalom, aquaculture coordinator for Kibbutz Neveh Eitan, expressed desperation on Monday over the holiday crime wave. "This is a hard blow for the entire industry - there's no end in sight," he said.

"The authorized fish farmers are almost alone in this campaign, despite the arrests last night. These robbers are professional - they know how to cover their tracks, and when we have shift changes. It's their job," he added.

The suspects caught on Monday are professional fisherman who work most of the year on Lake Kinneret, where several of them had previously been charged with poisoning fish.

Amit Geva, an instructor in the Agriculture Ministry's fisheries branch, said, "This phenomenon keeps returning, mainly because there is no real solution. Robbers are not penalized, and nothing is being done against those who buy the stolen merchandise."

"A merchant who buys 200 grams from a fisherman all year suddenly gets 500 grams of fish at half the price, and it doesn't matter that the merchandise is stolen. We need the system to fight this phenomenon - the police, courts and the Tax Authority," he said.

The damage to the industry is immense. Last year fish farmers at Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael said their annual losses stood at 80 tons, translating into millions of shekels in lost revenues. Every year, they said, they file some 40 complaints to police about stolen fish.

"The penalties today don't deter the thieves, and the fines need to be hundreds of thousands of shekels, since the thieves' operations yield them thousands or tens of thousands of shekels," Geva said.