JERUSALEM – JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli government is echoing the words of Jesus with a new ban — asking the fishermen of the Sea of Galilee to cast aside their nets.
Jesus appealed to the fishermen to drop their work and follow him. The Israelis, however, have a more mundane reason — officials say a decade of overfishing has left the aquatic population of the biblical body of water in danger.
The fishing ban will be in effect for two years, but even afterward, no one is expecting modern times to follow biblical history, when Jesus directed fishermen to a spot where a "multitude of fish" nearly sank their boats.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet approved the ban last month. Oz Goffman of the Ministry of Agriculture said Thursday parliament must still approve the measure before it takes effect.
Israeli officials and scientists who study the freshwater lake hope the ban will allow the population of St. Peter's fish, a local breed of tilapia popular with locals and tourists, as well as other species to regenerate their numbers.
In announcing the moratorium, Netanyahu said fishermen would receive financial support while game officials restocked the freshwater lake in northern Israel.
"This worries me because I remember fishing there, and the fish were excellent," Netanyahu told his Cabinet on April 18.
Scientist Ilia Ostrovsky, who studies the lake and serves on the committee overseeing aquatic populations, said the fishermen of the Galilee began using nets with smaller and smaller mesh over the years, catching more small fish to match the tonnage of big fish they caught in decades past.
"The fishermen ... are sawing off the branch they are sitting on," he said.
In recent years, up to 80 percent of fish pulled from the lake were under legal size limits, he said.
The ban will bolster the population of fish in the lake, Ostrovsky said, but cautioned that it must be followed by more stringent enforcement of fishing laws.
The ban will put 200 licensed fisherman out of work, but tourism is unlikely to be affected.
Daniel Carmel, a "worship boat" operator for Christians tourists visiting the area, said he sympathized with his fishing neighbors on the shores of the sea but didn't fear for his livelihood.
Paraphrasing a quote from the Bible, he said: "I'm fishing for men, and they can't stop me from doing that."