Further to the worrying situation with the River Jordan and the Dead Sea (blogged about here and here) I now read about the collapsing fish stocks in the Sea of Galilee (see this article in the Times newspaper).

The article concerns the ban on catching the much sort after ‘St. Peter’s fish’ (formally Sarotherodon galilaeus galilaeus of the tilapia genus) in the Sea of Galilee.

“Stocks have dropped drastically in the past decade because of environmental and human factors. Annual catches of the St Peter’s fish, which takes its name from the New Testament story in which Jesus’s disciple, Peter, netted a fish with a gold coin in its mouth — and paid his taxes with it — have dropped from 300 tonnes to only 8.” James Hider and Yonit Farago from The Times, May 26 2010

The New Testament story is from the Gospel of Matthew:

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” Matthew 17:24-27 ESV

As has been astutely pointed about by Mark Goodacre over at NTblog the coin referred to in the Times article as gold was in fact a silver coin.  The greek word, στατήρ (stater), translated in the ESV as a shekel was of course worth four drachma and hence the coin paid for both Peter’s and Jesus’ temple tax.

Fascinating, one of the stated reasons for the drastic decline in stocks includes the following:

“One of the problems originated in the Gulf War in 1991, when Saddam Hussein set fire to Kuwait’s oil wells before being driven out by a US-led offensive. The resulting cloud of smoke permanently diverted migration routes of up to 10,000 hungry cormorants, which now fly up the African Rift Valley to the Sea of Galilee and guzzle its fish.”  James Hider and Yonit Farago from The Times, May 26 2010

Of course one of the major reasons for the fish decline is illegal and over fishing.  It’s a lucrative business providing for all the tourists who want to eat the fish that Jesus ate.