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Google Earth reveals secret, gigantic Persian Gulf fish traps

A Google Earth image reveals a huge fishing weir along the Persian Gulf coast.

Don’t tell tall tales about your next fishing trip, because Google Earth might just rat you out. Every year the nations surrounding the Persian Gulf report how much fish they pull from their shores. In 2005, the reported total was 5,260 metric tons. But scientists at the University of British Columbia smelled something fishy, so they turned to a new research tool in the battle against bad reporting: Google Earth.

The fishermen in the Persian Gulf region use traps that are so huge, they’re visible from space. Called fishing weirs, the tidal traps catch marine life as the ocean level rises and falls. After inspecting thousands of miles of coastlines in Google Earth, the Canadian researchers counted 1,900 fishing weirs–far more than the number on record. The scientists now estimate the annual fish haul in 2005 was closer to 31,000 metric tons–six times what was reported to officials. They published a report on their findings in the ICES Journal of Marine Science.

Fishing weirs have been used to catch fish for thousands of years, but satellite technology is only now giving scientists a sense of how they interact with the environment. And the use of satellite technology to double check reported data about wildlife harvesting gives scientists a new tool for understanding and managing the environment.

“Because countries don’t provide reliable information on their fisheries’ catches, we need to expand our thinking and look at other sources of information and new technologies to tell us about what’s happening in our oceans,” explained the study’s co-author, Daniel Pauly.

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