99. Israeli Fish Farming and Aquaculture

For Israel, the business of the ‘fisheries’ is next in importance to agriculture. A country blessed with the sea is certain to have a strong and age-old bond with fishing and Israel is no exception to it. However, Israel is not just into fishing but practices and emphasizes on ‘fish farming’. Farming and that too of fishes!

Fishing is practised by mankind since very ancient times. However, fish catch is gradually falling short due to the rising population. In addition to it, problems like climate change and global warming are threatening the very existence of fishes and other aquatic animals. These problems are also contributing to a reduction in fisheries production. In the course of time, may fish species are getting extinct because of these natural disasters.

Not just this, even the size of the available fish is diminishing. The reasons behind it are not only environmental but manmade as well. The rising population and the subsequent rise in demand are making the fishermen inclined towards catching every fish they can. As a result, most of the newborn baby fish do not get adequate time to grow. They are caught within days from their birth, thus restricting their size and also leading to a decrease in fish reproduction rates.

Faced with such adversities, the Israeli scientists considered ‘Fish farming’ as a solution to all these problems. The concept, in a way, is not new. Fish farming was already practised by having floating cages in the Mediterranean Sea. However, in the last few decades, considerations are being given more professionally to this occupation. Importantly, research has begun to reduce the dependence on the sea and make fish farming land-based.

A fish farm in Israel

The profession of agriculture and the work of building community settlements across Israel had to face adverse conditions during the period after independence. They faced harsh conditions like hot and dry weather, scarcity of water and desert land, and fisheries too were no exception to it.

However, the way in which Israel developed settlements across the country with perseverant and undaunted out-of-the-box thinking and the manner in which they succeeded in farming in the desert is exemplary. It is with the same virtues and traits that they also succeeded in ‘fish farming’ in the desert. Like in agriculture and other sectors, the government, research centres, university departments, farmers, fishermen and ordinary people came together and achieved the spectacular success at fish farming as well.

Though Israel has a coast, due to the local climate, the sea has specific species of fish. However, the immigrants who came to Israel had lived for many generations in various respective regions of the world. Their food habits had developed in line with the corresponding local diet and climate. Their food also included fish available locally at the places from where they had come. Many of them could not adjust with fish from the Israeli waters.

A lot of fish-loving immigrants who came to Israel from East Europe in the decade of 1930-40 brought with them many varieties of live local fish. They built tanks in the backyard of their houses to raise them. The number of fish would increase gradually. In certain kibbutzim, such a form of fish rearing, in fact, became the main business for many. One may term it as the initial form of informal fish farming in Israel.

However, for a country like Israel which is parched for drinking water, getting water for farming fish seemed too onerous. It was around this time that many agricultural experiments were on-going. During the experimentation, vast subterranean water deposits beneath the desert in the Negev were found. The water being brackish was not potable. Hence, it was proposed to be used for purposes other than drinking. The water also proved useful for agriculture. Thus, the possibility of the same water being used for fish farming was tested.

The water and the temperature in the desert were found suitable for the fish, and they started breeding at a brisk pace in the tanks of brackish water created for them. Within a period of five to six months, ‘one crop’ of fish would be ready; that is, one reproductive cycle of fish would get over. Thus, in a year, there would be two reproductive cycles which made it a profitable business.

Moreover, planning made was such that traditional farming and fish farming mutually benefitted each other. The researchers found that after harvesting ‘one crop’ of fish in a period of five-six months, if water from the fish tanks was recycled and used at conventional farming, it acted as a fertilizer boosting growth and productivity of the agricultural crop.

It was evidently proved that fish farming was possible in the Israeli climate. Fish farming had thus cleared its first test; the next was to breed various species of edible fish. In this phase, efforts began to breed fish not only popular in Israel but also edible fish, savoured across the world, considering the export market. Breeding started of edible fishes like salmon, tuna, tilapia, etc., sought after in various regions and of ornamental fishes too. Also, research was initiated to find the ways in which the maximum quantity of a fish crop could be gained using the least possible water.

Israeli fish exports

Recently, in Israel, the business of ‘aquaculture’ is on the verge of growing as big as ‘agriculture’ and is complementing it as well. Today, the fish thus produced are gaining demand in many countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States and European nations. It has opened a large export market for Israel. Fish farming is producing 20 thousand tonnes of fish each year. Along with it, the secondary businesses, those of various chemicals, medicines and other material needed for fish farming have also developed in Israel. The Israeli government supports the fish farmers in the very same way as they support the peasants by means of research, training, insurance, etc.

Israeli aquaculture

As like its practice till date, Israel has made its research in aquaculture available to the world. In several countries like Ghana, Kenya, Germany and India, Israeli researchers are helping in setting up aquaculture businesses.

Fish is considered a rich source of proteins, good fats and nutrients. A growing number of non-vegetarians are in favour of opting for fish or being pescetarians. According to a report by the United Nations, a pescetarian consumes about 17 kilograms of fish annually. Along with the report, considering an estimate that the world population may cross 9 billion in the next three decades, the demand for fish across the globe is bound to keep increasing. At the same time, the natural availability of fish is gradually going to decrease due to various environmental factors. In such times, it appears that the ‘fish farming’ will be preferred over conventional fishing.(To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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