The fishing industry in the Mediterranean basin can be traced back to Roman
times. The plethora of fish and other marine life included many of the same
fish that live in the region today including hake, red mullet, gray mullet,
gilt-head sea bream and moray. But the fishing industry in the desert, specifically
the Negev, is a very modern idea — with ever-growing success.
Seventy percent of Israel’s fish industry
is conducted in fisheries based on or near kibbutzim in the Upper Galilee,
the Beit Shean Valley, the Jordan River Valley, the coast and the Negev desert.
Unlike the sea, fisheries hold a single species in each pond.
In Israel, aquaculture [raising fish
in fishponds] is often placed between a body of fresh water and agricultural
fields. Fishpond water is used to irrigate the nearby fields, thus recycling
this limited resource. In the Negev, a young olive grove with excellent yield,
is irrigated with recycled 10,000 year old brackish
from the nearby fish ponds. These particular olives are
the raw material for the award-winning olive oil produced at
Israeli aquaculture breeds many species
including carp, blue tilapia (all-male hybrids), red tilapia, tilapia in sea
water, mullet, catfish, fresh water prawn, Australian crayfish, sea bream,
sea bass, red drum, trout, and fresh water pink salmon.
Fisheries on the Mediterranean coast
cooperate with fisheries in the desert: red drum fish are hatched in the Atlit
coastal region and are raised in the Negev. The unique weather conditions
of the desert allow breeding tanks to operate non-stop all year round, resulting
fish faster growth, and better return on capital investment.
Carp are hardy enough to survive in
outdoor tanks, while other fish such as red drum and tilapia live in breeding
ponds. The Experimental Fish Farm at Ashalim in the Negev raises 30–40 kilos
of fish per cubic meter. Together the 15 ponds boast one of the longest concrete
intensive closed loop fisheries in the world. The re-circulated water is
a constant 38oC.
While the mass production of fish
helps to meet the local demand for consumption, environmentalists are deeply
concerned that the 10 million fish raised in cages contribute to pollution.
According to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, “The waste
food and excrement of such a large number of fish in such a confined area
produces pollution at a level equivalent to the raw sewage of a town of 30,000.”
Jerusalem Post, April 24, 2000.
Throughout the ages fish have played
an important part in our diets and many cultures have attached symbolism and
myths to them. Clearly producing enough fish to meet new demands raises significant
challenges — and the Israeli model of desert fish is a surprising
Text by J. Isaacson