SEA OF GALILEE, Israel - Fishing in the Sea of Galilee is a tradition that dates back to Bible times and has continued for thousands of years. However, all that could soon come to an end.
Several years of drought have brought the lake's water level dangerously low. And now, Israel's Agriculture Ministry says it wants to ban all fishing from boats for two years.
"We need to stop fishing to give the small fish a chance to grow, causing fish stocks to increase and the lake to recover," fisheries director Chaim Anjioni said. "We are just before a catastrophe, and that is why we have decided to stop fishing."
But long-time fishermen, like Menachem Lev from Kibbutz Ein Gev and Yairi Froiken from Kibbutz Ginosar, say the authorities are not in touch with the realities of the lake.
"There's still water in the lake," Lev said. "There's still fish in the lake. People that sit in the houses of the government - they don't know what's going on in the lake."
Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor said the fish are important to maintain water quality.
"We are looking at variety, and it's very important for the quality of water and for all the fish as well," Schor said.
Modern fishermen use sonar to find large schools of fish, such as sardines and tilapia, better known in Israel as St. Peter's Fish, which have been in this water since the time of Jesus. Huge nets are cast, then pulled up on winches, and the catch is thrown into the boat by hand.
"We make money. We have fish, and everybody can come and see how much fish we have in this lake," Lev said.
But international water expert Professor Avner Adin from Hebrew University said the number of sardines has dropped very low, and St. Peter's Fish is 50 times less than it was a few years ago.
"Much of this is because illegal fishing, using poisons and other things," he explained.
The government plans to compensate the legal fishermen for the upcoming two years of losses, but still the fishermen say it's a mistake to stop fishing because the lake is full of surprises.
"I remember, it was in the past the same," Froiken said. "One year no fish. Going to fish next year, the lake is full of fish. You never know."