Notes from the field

Author name: Yigael Ben Ari 22.01.2020

Hello to you all! The winter is here in a big way, the sea is raging on all fronts: high waves, beached ships, gas that has begun flowing through the pipes, a maritime planning policy issued, and a new list of natural assets signed by the minister. Before we could even reflect on the past decade, this month started full throttle.

It is difficult to summarize a decade’s worth of the sea, and it is even more difficult to predict what the next decade at sea will bring. Yet, you will find in this issue a number of brave people who are dealing with these questions, each in their own field and from their own unique point of view.

I will try to tell you, from my perspective, about the challenges that passed and the challenges that we face ahead of us.

In the past decade, the sea has changed from somewhere romantic and slightly neglected, to the center of a power struggle over uses and rights that effect the Israeli public as a whole. The map of Israel no longer ends at the coast, but continues westward, at least until the end of territorial waters, and over the coming decade will probably even expand to include economic waters.

The planning administration, with the help of a team of experts, pushed forward a new maritime policy, and actually analyzed in depth the complexity of the marine habitat in reference to the variety of needs and planned uses of our sea, fully delineated for the first time, and proposed a healthy, comprehensive, management strategy for the whole marine space I recommend reading the attached linkย 

The fishing reforms, promoted primarily by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, finally brought a dramatic change in fishing regulations. The new regulations were passed by the Ministry of Agriculture in the parliament’s Economic Committee and are managed by the Department of Fisheries. The changes include a ban on trawler fishing in the north of the country, removal of trawlers from the sea, fishing bans during spawning and recruitment seasons, a change in minimum catch size, fishing quotas, and more.

The policy documents written by Nir Angert and Dr. Ruth Yahel in 2012 changed from internal guidelines to the practical organizational plan of the State of Israel, a significant achievement and a step towards saving our natural resources at sea, as well as a real challenge for management and oversight.

The new maritime planning policy, put forth by the planning administration, includes a concrete, ongoing plan for marine protection, made evident by the establishment of the marine protected area in Rosh Hanikra and the promotion of a reserve in the Carmel, and in other future areas.

The strong cooperation with academics, seen in part through the joint surveys conducted in the sea in recent years, improves our ability to manage the field, based on hard work and earned knowledge. Setting up a dedicated marine unit allows us to work practically against one of the most significant threats to the marine habitat – overfishing, and of course improves our ability to manage and monitor the marine reserves and the protected naturals assets in the sea.

Along with these successes and accomplishments, it is important to look at areas where we made less progress and to ask which threats are still relevant and could influence the marine space?

Without trying to assign blame, but by observing the facts, it seems to me that the rivers of Israel that flow into the Mediterranean fall short of the desired water quality which we would like to see poured into the sea. Some of them bear sewage and other wastewater, and instead of being a source of nutrients for a healthy and vibrant habitat, they are a threat and hazard negatively affecting our environment. It is enough to see the Alexander River, that every year is polluted anew by local olive presses, in order to understand the immense damage caused to the estuary itself, and further on in its connection to the sea. The Lachish River, Hadera River, and Kishon River are also not always a source of pride.

Invasive species also fall under the definition of a growing and ongoing threat. The lionfish and others have become permanent residents of our shores and their impact may be damaging, although it’s doubtful we can make significant inroads here.

Our interactions with fishers are not always successfully respectful or relevant and it is important that we make an effort to improve this relationship, show respect to the experience and knowledge of this important sector, and highlight our shared interest in a healthy sea with a rich and functioning ecosystem.


So what is next?

In order to influence the Israeli marine space, and the many plans expected to be realized in the coming decade, first and foremost we will need to work together with the relevant government offices (the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Agriculture, Energy, Security, Tourism, etc.). We should strive to promote and foster academic studies which help us understand the ecosystem and enable good decision-making. We should strengthen the shared front with environmental organizations working in the marine environment. We need to improve communication with the various sectors active at sea, including both commercial and sport fishers, aquaculture farming, sailors, maritime sports enthusiasts, and all the public who enjoy the sea. Without them it will be difficult for us to reach the goals we set for ourselves to protect the marine environment.

We will try to influence the large and aggressive infrastructure projects planned at sea, minimizing the damage and environmental impact. Our organization will try to complete the establishment of new marine nature reserves, starting with a National Marine Park. We will need to deal with managing large and complex territories at sea, and to improve our monitoring efforts outside marine reserves in order to provide decision makers with professional and timely data. We will have to deal with work in the deep sea, using different tools and at distances that are new to us.

These are just some of the challenges we should expect in the coming decade, so there is a lot of work at sea and I feel privileged to be one of the people who will address these challenges. I am also optimistic and feel that the direction is positive and correct. If we continue to learn from past mistakes, and continue to improve, there is a good chance we will succeed.

See you in the next issue.

Yigael Ben Ari
Director of marine projects and activities

Translated by Daphna Shapiro Goldberg