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How to reform Israeli fisheries To the benefit of man and nature
Alon Rothschild, Biodiversity Policy Coordinator, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel
Israeli Mediterranean fisheries hold substantial public benefits, despite its minor contribution to annual fish consumption. It provides protein-rich and locally produced food, a source of livelihood for approximately 1,000 commercial fishermen and a source for outdoor recreation for some 70,000 sport fishermen.
However, Israeli Mediterranean fisheries are in a state of a continuous ecological, economic and social crisis, as a result of mismanagement (or more accurately, non-management) by the fisheries department in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
Substantial declines in yield and efficiency has been reported, alongside negative cross impacts between different segments of the fleet, especially between trawl fishermen and artisanal and sport fishermen. For example, 70% of trawl catch are juvenile fish, many of them are target species (as mature fish) for artisanal and sport fishermen. The economic damage of trawl fishing has been estimated at 860 million NIS.
100,000 protected animals are harmed by fishing activities annually, including sharks, rays and sea turtles.
The reform was constructed based on the best available knowledge, and with a comprehensive stakeholder engagement process.
The reform aims to change the fleet’s composition to a more selective one, using a buy-out scheme to eliminate trawler fishing.
Management regulations should be implemented on all remaining fishermen, including a breeding season moratorium, a regional maximum- effort cap, a bag limit for sport fishermen and the establishment of no-take zones. All alongside an upgrade in enforcement capacity.
The reform’s cost is estimated at 80-100 million NIS, and can be easily funded over a 7 year period with joint funding from ministries of Agriculture, Treasury and Environment, and Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority. Revenues are expected from an increase in license fees and cancelling trawlers’ fuel subsidy.
Until such a reform takes place, SPNI is promoting a voluntary code of conduct for sport fishermen, a mobile application for the public to report illegal fishing (“Sea Watch”), and appealing to the Supreme Court to demand the inclusion of the most acutely needed management tools in newly issued fishing licenses.
Promoting marine nature reserves
Sea watch App
Every year, more than 100,000 endangered marine animals, including sharks and rays, are illegally fished in Israel. Additionally, an average of two dolphins and 3,000 sea turtles are harmed annually as a result of fishing activity. Coupled with years of overfishing, these same destructive fishing methods are also driving Israel’s local fish population to the verge of extinction.
While surfers, swimmers, fishermen and nature lovers are eager to file reports about hazards and illegal activity witnessed on Israeli beaches, there was no structured and effective way of collecting their reports and distributing the information to the proper authorities to take action in real-time. That is, until last fall.
In an effort to reverse these trends, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) developed Sea Watch, an app that empowers the public to improve the ecological state of Israel’s oceans and rivers by sending real-time reports on a variety of maritime environmental incidents and hazards straight to SPNI.
Since its launch in November, the free app has been downloaded over 8,000 times and has made a profound impact on Israel’s marine life, serving as a one-stop reporting hub for all issues relating to ocean pollution, the sale of endangered species, illegal fishing, injured mammal or sea turtles, abandoned netting, invasive species, and uncontrolled sewage.
The reports are collected by an SPNI team that verifies the information and alerts the authority assigned to each case, whether that be the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Ministry of Environment Protection or the local municipality,” “Some of the reports are even handled directly by SPNI experts with the help of volunteers.”
The user-friendly app features a real-time reporting map that highlights the locations of all reports received and allows users to share pictures of the hazards they discover.
Just weeks after the app was made available to the public, it was instrumental in thwarting illegal fishing activities in Haifa.
During a visit to the Shavit Fisherman Anchorage in Haifa, a group from SPNI’s Hof Hacarmel Field School uncovered a deep sea fishing boat filled with crates of protected round stingrays. Upon discovering the illegal haul, they used the app to report the incident. Rangers from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority were immediately dispatched to handle the situation.
More recently, the app has helped save the lives of injured sea turtles. In one instance, a group of surfers found a baby sea turtle washed up on the beach with a “ghost” fishing net around its neck. Not long after they alerted SPNI of the situation via Sea Watch, a ranger from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority arrived and whisked the turtle away to the Israel Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Lovingly named “Michelangelo” by its rescuers, the baby sea turtle is almost fully recovered and is scheduled for return to the wild in the coming weeks.