Autumn 2003


Out-of-Water Fishing Reels in Fellowships

What’s a religious Jewish girl to do if she wants to study Maritime Civilizations, but her adherence to religious precepts precludes her going into the water with men?

        Edna Ethad found an answer: study fish out of the water; collect dead fish and the bones of ancient fish.  Admittedly this is marine biology combined with ancient maritime civilizations, but it did not bother Ethad’s advisers, Prof. Ehud Spanier and Prof. Michal Artzi, who in fact had suggested this interdisciplinary line of investigation.

        Her research has been so productive and promising that the 3rd-year graduate student found herself the recipient of two fellowships at the 31st Board of Governors Meeting.  One was a Maurice Hatter Fellowship in Maritime Studies, and the other a Thilde and Ernst Fraenkel Fellowship for the Study of Haifa and the Galilee .  Both are traditionally awarded at the annual Board meeting, and Edna Ethad is the first student to have garnered both of them the same year.

        “I love the sea,” she told Focus when asked about her choice of studies.  “Since I was a child, I never found it boring to go to the sea, to look at it.  Even though I am from Zefat (Safed) high in the mountains, or may be because of that, I always found the sea to be calming.  I wanted to study biology and the sea.”  Ethad, who is still in the category of a “young married” and, as a married woman, wears a hat to keep her hair covered in accordance with strict Orthodox principles, had majored in biology as an undergraduate at Bar Ilan University.  She illustrates points she wants to make by quoting from the Psalms and other books of the Bible.

        For the past seven months, Ethad, four pails in hand, has been going to the Electric Company power station in Haifa Bay twice a month to sort through the fish being cleared from the plant’s filters.  Fish of various forms—“once even one that looks like a snake”—that may find themselves in one of the four channels bringing water to cool  the power station get stuck in the filter at the end of each channel.  It’s usually too difficult for the fish to swim against the stream to take them out of harm’s way. 

        Ethad has been sorting the catch in the marine biology lab of the University’s Leon Recanati Institute of Maritime Studies.  She records family and species, length, from which filter (since the filters are of different size), and environmental conditions like water temperature, air temperature, salinity of the water, and PH level.

What may seem routine and boring to some provides this researcher with fascination. “I keep on meeting with a new kind of fish.  So far, I have collected some 45 species.   Just this week, I found a beautiful, unusually shaped fish.  I photographed it, as I do all the fish. 

“I’ve found St. Peter’s fish (tilapia), which you usually associate with the Kinneret ( Sea of Galilee ),” she continues.  “Even little ones.  And several varieties of this fish.  I’ve also found fish that have migrated here from the Red Sea , Lessepsian migrants.”

That so many different types and sizes—up to a half-meter (foot- and-a-half) long and 4-5 kg. (9-11 lbs.) in weight—are found in one, somewhat restricted area does seem surprising, an emotion she tries to convey about her work and that in part explains her interest.

 Later she will go to the Internet to gather information on the sea that day in order to make a connection between biotic and abiotic information.  She also obtains information from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fishing Division on the quantity of fish at sea, compared to the quantity by the shore.

The Electric Company has been cooperative, since the information Ethad has been gathering is important for the future operation of its filtration system.  The variety of fish found, she explained, is dynamic.  Change can take place in the short term.  In any case, it is important for the company to know when these changes take place and what kind of fish end up in its unintended nets.  There had been very limited study of this aspect prior to Ethad’s work.

The archeological phase of Ethad’s research has to do with examining the varieties of fish bones found at the Tel Abu Huam excavation site at the Shemen Coast near the power plant.  She then compares the bones of the past with the bones of the present.  Ethad acknowledges that fish bones found at a site do not necessarily mean they originated there.  “There are no unequivocal answers here,” she remarks.  “However, it at least enables us to know what kind of fish were available, whether locally or through trading, to ancient civilizations, compared to the present.”

The double fellowship winner said that she could continue collecting bones from the Electric Company filters for several years, but will soon have to begin writing her thesis.  “It’s a pity no one else is documenting this work,” she said.

In addition to her research, Ethad teaches at two religious high schools in northern Israel , where she lives. Though she likes teaching, she doesn’t really want it as a career.  She admits, though, that she has not really thought about a future in her research field, although she would like to continue on for a doctorate.  “I won’t stop learning,” she states.

Though usually eager to commute to Haifa to conclude her research, she finds one aspect of the study that stinks.  Literally.  That’s when she has to sift through dead fish on a hot day.


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