The lowest in the world and Israel’s only freshwater lake, the Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River and supplies much of the region’s water. Famously the site for many of Jesus’ sermons, it also has a long fishing history. In the first century, the historian Flavius Josephus wrote that 230 fishing boats thrived on the lake. Twenty centuries later, the lake is at risk of being emptied of all its fish. This news just in from the Jerusalem Post.The Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry has issued temporary fishing licenses to fishermen in order to buy time. In between now and February 28, 2011, when the licenses will expire, the Knesset economic committee must decide what to do about the unprecedented low fish stock levels.
In just one decade, fish stocks dropped by almost 2,000 tonnes from 2,144 in 1999 to just 156.8 in 2009.
Apart from impacting on the livelihood of local fishermen, which is serious enough, what are the ecological effects of an over-fished lake?
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, at least two:
- Excessive fishing can reduce spawning biomass of a fishery below desired levels such as maximum sustainable or economic yields.
- Continued overfishing can cause changes in species composition and biodiversity can occur with progressive reduction of large, long-lived, and high value predator species and the increase in small, short-lived, and lower value pelagic and demersal prey species, a process described as ‘fishing down the food chain’ (This is especially relevant for ocean species).
Last year a fishing ban was put in place in order to increase fish stock. It remains to be seen whether similar action will be taken this year.
Compounding the lake’s ecological health are low water levels, presently at their lowest since the 1920s. Although last year between March and June the lake levels were above the “red line” – below which levels are thought to be particularly bad – lack of rain has kept levels devastatingly low. This despite efforts to cut back on the amount of water pumped out of the lake.
Last year, Lake Kinneret only received, on average, 60% of its annual rainful.
More on the Sea of Galilee:
image via the holy land