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The Blue Half 

Israeli Mediterranean Conservation Reform

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) is the largest conservation NGO In the country.

"The Blue Half" is SPNI's marine program

Israeli Mediterranean Sea

 The Mediterranean sea covers Half of the Israeli area (4,000 sq. kilometers of territorial waters, and 22,000 sq. kilometers of EEZ), and is the largest natural area in the country. Marine ecosystems provide vital services for Israel's residents: Oxygen for breathing,  novel medicines, protein, eco-tourism and education.

A healthy marine environment helps to mitigate and manage risks like coastal erosion, jellyfish outbreaks and the spread of noxious invasive species.

Israeli Mediterranean sea is home to unique ecosystems: sponge meso-photic gardens, deep water corals, cold seeps, rocky reefs and deep canyons. It is a hotspot for apex predators: Dolphins, sharks, rays, and a spawning ground for Atlantic Blue-Fin Tuna.

 

The challenge

Aggressive and unregulated fishing, and the development of coastal and marine infrastructures without sufficient environmental considerations, have caused the deterioration of the marine ecosystems. Climate change and the invasion of organisms via the Suez canal is another challenge that pressures even more the marine environment.

Only 2.5% of the territorial waters are designated as marine reserves, and the EEZ lacks any environmental legislation (and thus has zero marine reserves or fisheries management).

 

The Secrets of The Mediterranean – March 2020

 
A sting ray on a bottom trawler. Photo: Aviad shainin

A sting ray on a bottom trawler | Photo: Aviad shainin

Our Mission

The Blue Half is promoting a comprehensive environmental reform to protect the marine environment in the Israeli Mediterranean sea:

1. Marine nature reserves – 20% of the territorial waters, and unique areas in the EEZ (especially the "Palmahim disturbance" area) to be designated as no-take marine reserves, in collaboration with the INPA.

2. Fisheries Management – Sustainable fisheries through regulation (where, when, how and how much to fish), enforcement and the ban on destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling.

3. Marine spatial planning – Mainstreaming ecological considerations within development activities like oil and gas infrastructures, aquaculture and coastal development, mainly by influencing Israel's national MSP.

4. Endangered species protection – we promote the declaration as "protected species" on a few endangered fish, like the Dusky Grouper – a keystone species that regulates the health of rocky reefs.

5. Public participation in marine conservation – We operate the "Sea Watch" app and data service: A unique initiative that enables every person to report on marine hazards and fishing violation, online, directly to the enforcement authorities.

 

A snorkeler on an abrasion platform. Photo: Andrey Aharonov.

A snorkeler on an abrasion platform | Photo: Andrey Aharonov.

Our achievements

1.Marine nature reserves – our activity was instrumental in designating the "Achziv–Rosh Hanikra" marine reserve as a No-take reserve, and in the approval of the plan for "Rosh-Carmel" marine reserve.

We worked closely with  the planning administration, to establish a policy of no-fishing in  marine reserves.

2.Fisheries Management – After an intensive 4 years campaign, including a few appeals to the High court of justice, the parliament have adopted (2016) the amendment to the fishing regulations we have compiled. The new regulations have established, for the first time, a fishing moratorium in the breeding and recruitment seasons, a ban on spearfishing while scuba diving, a bottom trawling closure on 40% of the territorial waters, and a bag limit on sport fisherman. Restrictions to increase fishing gear selectivity were also set.

We have also pushed for the allocation of enforcement responsibility, from the ministry of agriculture to the nature and parks authority, and to the establishment of a novel marine enforcement unit responsible for fishing regulations (2018).

3.Marine spatial planning– we have lobbied extensively for the mainstreaming of ecological considerations in the Israeli MSP plan, that was approved in 2019.

4.Endangered species protection– We have appealed to the High court of justice for the protection on 5 grouper species and the Bluefin Tuna. Discussions are stil in progress.

5. Public participation in marine conservation – almost 10,000 people have already downloaded the Sea Watch application. The numerous public reports have enabled (through strong collaboration with government enforcement bodies) dozens of successful Illegal fishing enforcement events, dozens of ghost nets removals, and a few exiting sea turtle rescues.

 

Contact person – Alon Rothschild, alon@spni.org.il  

 

Promoting marine nature reserves

SPNI is promoting the establishment of Marine Nature Reserves, as No-Take zone MPA's, To reach the target of 20% protection in the Mediterranean sea.

 Dive into the sea, and watch the short videos we have produced in order to make this ambition a reality.

Marine Nature Reserves - LET'S GET IT RIGHT

Marine Reserves - TREASURE CHESTS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA

 
 
 

The Evtah Marine Reserve - THE MARINE DUNE PARK

Marine Reserves - ROSH CARMEL

 
 
 

Marine Reserves - DEEP SEA

Fishing in marine nature reserves - can we have our cake and eat it too?

 

How to reform Israeli fisheries To the benefit of man and nature

 
 

Photography: Alon Rothschild

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.

 

Link to a lecture given as part of: Batsheva de Rothschild Seminar, Environmental Science and Policy – Challenges in the South Eastern Mediterranean, November 17, 2015 Nir Etzion, Israel

 

Read here an article from the Jerusalem post | January 2017

 

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.

Sea Watch is compatible with all iOS and Android devices and is available as a free download via the App Store and Google Play.  

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