Google “spies” find weir trap fishing used illegally in Iran, Qatar and Bahrain


A Kuwaiti in Canada uses Google Earth to uncover how a banned method of Middle East fishing is being used to trap an estimated 31,000 tons of fish per year. 

According to Pew, who funded the research, most of the unreported catch occurred in the coastal waters of Bahrain and Iran. The researchers also found 17 illegally operating weirs in Qatar, which banned the gear in 1994.

Overfishing in many parts of the world has often been blamed as one of the prime factors in the decline of fish and other forms of marine life in the worlds seas and oceans. This problem is especially prevalent in the Arab Gulf region, where Gulf states like Dubai have finally gotten serious about overfishing.

Oman, another Gulf region country, “gave the boot to bottom trawling” by commercial fishermen.

An ancient method of trapping fish in coastal waters, known as Weir trapping or fishing Weirs, has been prevalent in Arab Gulf waters in recent times, reports the CBC.

Weir fishing involves the placing of v-entrance shaped underwater traps into which fish swim and afterwards cannot find their way back into open water. Fishermen afterwards simply net the hapless fish found swimming in the trap enclosure. Weir fish traps have been in use for hundreds of years; and have been especially effective in the mouths of coastal streams and rivers to trap fish like salmon returning to spawn.

In an interview made with Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak, a Kuwaiti PhD student at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Center, she said that the amount of fishing using Weir fish traps in the Arab gulf has been grossly under-reported to UN fishery monitoring agencies.

“We should realize what’s being reported to the UN is likely an underestimate. That has implications for fisheries management,” she said.

Ms. Al-Abdulrazzak, who is currently working on ocean governance at the UN added that the fish traps often snare large numbers of immature fish before they have a chance to grow up enough to spawn.

(Photo  below shows Weir trap locations in red)

Locations of Weir fish traps in Arab Gulf

Al- Abdulrazzak added that she recalls seeing many of these Weir fish traps along coastal waters in her native Kuwait. She told CBC News that she decided to use satellite images created by Google to determine how many of these traps are found in the Gulf.

After four months of checking, she found no less than 1,900 of these fish traps. By talking with local Gulf fishing scientists on amounts of fish catches reported, she estimates that weirs in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, and Bahrain scoop up about 31,000 tons of fish a year, or about six times the amount actually reported.

In addition, Al-Abdulrazaak found that three regional countries, Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia reported no fish catches by Weir traps. Noting that her estimates “are huge” she adds that what she estimates are likely to be closer to the truth involving fish catches by this method.

She hopes that using resources like internet photo images, which does not cost much money, can lead to better controls over this kind of fishing; especially since Weir fish traps are used  world-wide.

Read more on overfishing issues in the Arabian Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East:

Dubai Finally Gets Serious About Overfishing

Bottom Trawlers in Oman Get the Boot

Why Dolphins Have Disappeared from Israel’s Shores

Photo of Weir Fish Trap locations in the Gulf by IB Times/Google Earth

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