From The Times
May 26, 2010
Sea of Galilee is out of fish, and miracles
Jesus and his Apostles miraculously catch enough fish to feed the
James Hider and Yonit Farago
Were Jesus to return and fish the Sea of Galilee today he might tell a
parable, not of prolific catches and the sated crowds of biblical times
but of empty nets and a hefty fine.
Israel’s parliament is poised to impose a two-year ban on fishing for
the famed St Peter’s fish — a type of tilapia indigenous to the Sea of
Galilee in the north of the country.
For thousands of years fishermen here have been pulling in the tasty
white fish, grilled as a speciality in the restaurants of Tiberias and
the villages dotted around the shores of the lake.
Stocks have dropped drastically in the past decade because of
environmental and human factors. Annual catches of the St Peter’s fish,
which takes its name from the New Testament story in which Jesus’s
disciple, Peter, netted a fish with a gold coin in its mouth — and paid
his taxes with it — have dropped from 300 tonnes to only 8.
The Government’s decision to ban fishing has angered fishermen and
communities that live off the trade. They blame the decline on
political mismanagement and a lack of enforcement of existing laws, and
fear that a ban could harm the region’s lucrative tourist business,
which attracts thousands of Christians from around the world.
“Nothing happened that we have to close the fishing,” said Menachem
Lev, who has been fishing the lake for 31 years from the kibbutz of Ein
Gev on the lake’s eastern shore.
“People come here to see fishermen working like Jesus and eat the fish.
All the world will criticise the Government for closing the lake.”
One of the problems originated in the Gulf War in 1991, when Saddam
Hussein set fire to Kuwait’s oil wells before being driven out by a
US-led offensive. The resulting cloud of smoke permanently diverted
migration routes of up to 10,000 hungry cormorants, which now fly up
the African Rift Valley to the Sea of Galilee and guzzle its fish.
Then there is the problem of illegal fishing, mostly by unlicensed
operators working out of the town of Tiberias across the lake. The
unregulated fishermen use nets with small eyes, catching young fish
before they can spawn. The fishermen accuse the Government of seeking
an easy solution by closing the lake instead of addressing its
problems. “They’ll close it for two years and what will happen? The
same problems will come back,” Mr Lev said.