In an industry in which new techniques are implemented regularly, most breeders have recently turned to intensive fish farming which has a number of advantages over traditional pond-breeding methods: Less land is needed, and water, a commodity that is becoming scarcer and more valuable, is less prone to evaporation in a smaller pond, is recyclable, and of course, each intensive pond requires less water. Annual output in intensive aquaculture can be as high as 15-20 tons per 1000 cubic meters, whereas conventional pond output is only between 300-800 kilograms per 1000 cubic meters.
Another benefit of intensive aquaculture is that the labor force doesn't require the same physical strength that it did in the larger conventional ponds, allowing for even pensioners to contribute honorably. On Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, with a large number of members from English-speaking countries, about 60 people are employed in the various aquacultural undertakings. These include biologists, a veterinarian, economists and other academics and technicians- in all, a highly skilled and informed team.
Glen Pagelson, originally from Brooklyn, NY, has been involved with aquaculture ever since he made aliyah in 1984. Armed with a BA in Biology and a Masters Degree in Genetics, Glen came to Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Arava with a garin (group) from the Young Judaea Zionist Youth Movement. His immediate surroundings "consisting primarily of sand and rock," directed Glen to look southward to the Gulf of Eilat to implement his academic studies. Beginning as a small pilot study in the Gulf of Eilat in the early 1980's, Ardag Fish Farms was established in 1990. Today it has an annual turnover of five million dollars. Jointly owned by five Arava kibbutzim, the sea cages produce over a 1000 tons of Denis (Sea Bream) per year, and its hatchery, which Glen manages, provides enough fingerlings for its own needs as well as for other producers. The fingerlings are grown in land based fiberglass tanks about a hundred meters from the sea close to the Jordanian border. Sea water is pumped to the tanks, and at the age of three months the fingerlings are transferred to sea cages where they grow to maturity.
The Drawbacks and the Rewards
Glen who lives with his Canadian-born wife and three children on the kibbutz, explains that "one of our greatest challenges is to regulate the level of production in sea cages to the point of being environmentally sustainable. Fish feed and waste products seem to pollute the reefs, but it is something we are keeping on top of." Environmental issues plague the inland fish farms as well, particularly such fishing centers as Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael which continue to draw water from over-pumped local springs, endangering local ecosystems as well as Israel's aquifers.
Future oriented research in intensive aquaculture is vital today. Scientists believe that within a number of years, land agriculture and natural sea-grown live protein will not provide enough for man's needs. Intensive growing of different species which make up the food chain (on one farm they grow the food for the fish on the other farm) will supply whole regions with live protein. Given proper instructions, farmers in less developed countries will be able to produce enough live protein through intensive fish farming for their own needs.
The signing of the Jordan-Israeli Peace Accord in 1995 included the provision of research grants pledged by President Clinton- that would benefit the whole region. One of the four projects approved, out of the 500 that applied for a grant, was carried out by aquaculturists of Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael in conjunction with the University of Maryland. This project has recently come to an end, but, with the aid of an Israeli grant, a field laboratory for a fish sperm bank at Ma'agan Michael has been established. The hatchery, which is the third branch of aquaculture on Maagan Michael, provides fingerlings for its own needs and for other growers in Israel. In addition, it exports fingerlings by air to Europe. Controlled methods allow spawning all year round.
From the days when fishermen set out in wooden boats at dawn to maximize their catch, the Israeli fishing industry has been transformed into one of selective breeding in controlled ponds by highly educated specialists.
The variety - tremendous .
The taste - as good as ever .
by Frank Zabow
Frank Zabow, who made aliyah from Cape Town in 1977, is a freelance writer and translator living in Givat Ada.