This article is over 5 years old and may contain outdated information.


Q & A with Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak

Satellite images used to calculate catches
  • Mar 31, 2014
  • 405 words
  • 2 minutes
Expand Image

Imagine finding a mythical black hole into which a major portion of the ocean’s fish disappeared.

That’s akin to what University of British Columbia PhD student Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak did when she discovered 1,900 previously unidentified fishing weirs in the Persian Gulf using Google Earth — the first time a fisheries catch had been estimated from space.

Al-Abdulrazzak, who grew up in Kuwait, estimated that the traps caught roughly 31,000 tonnes of fish in 2005 — almost six times what was reported to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Why were you initially interested in researching fish catches in the Persian Gulf?

Some countries weren’t making any reference to these traps, and I wondered if it was something we could investigate. It’s a really traditional and common form of fishing, so I found it odd that there was no information in the literature about it.

How did you find out you could see the weirs in satellite images?

It was a complete fluke. I was trying to locate my house in Kuwait with Google Earth and realized you could see the weirs from space. I rushed to my advisor with my laptop to show him and he was really excited.

How surprised were you when you found fish catches were almost six times what was reported?

Fairly surprised, but other studies have shown that official data tends to underestimate catches. To me this was just more evidence that we need better reporting methods. The problem is that weirs are used by small scale fisheries, and are thought to contribute about one per cent to the full amount caught. What I’ve shown is that number is closer to 10 per cent.

Was there reaction from the UNFAO?

They said that the study is unreliable — but we’re certainly not the first to question the quality of their data. 

What methods have been used to determine fish catches up to this point?

Normally, some countries do short-term studies, but many of them have no requirement for licencing, so it’s easy to get away with catching more than you’re reporting.

What effect do you think your research will have?

I hope it provides government and policymakers with information to improve our data collection. It’s pretty straightforward, it’s free and, with a little patience, much can be done. We can’t really manage a resource without an adequate picture of what is being removed.


Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

illegal wildlife trade, elephant foot, ivory, biodiversity


The illegal wildlife trade is a biodiversity apocalypse

An estimated annual $175-billion business, the illegal trade in wildlife is the world’s fourth-largest criminal enterprise. It stands to radically alter the animal kingdom.

  • 3405 words
  • 14 minutes
A grizzly bear lies dead on the side of the road


Animal crossing: Reconnecting North America’s most important wildlife corridor

This past summer an ambitious wildlife under/overpass system broke ground in B.C. on a deadly stretch of highway just west of the Alberta border. Here’s how it happened.

  • 3625 words
  • 15 minutes
Banff wildlife overpass, anniversary, national park, bear, wolf, elk, cougar


As Banff’s famed wildlife overpasses turn 20, the world looks to Canada for conservation inspiration

The innovative structures are heralded for having opened migration corridors and saved countless animals from vehicle collisions

  • 1586 words
  • 7 minutes


Announcing the winners of the 2022 Canadian Wildlife Photography of the Year competition

Canadian Geographic is pleased to honour 14 photographers for their outstanding images of Canadian wildlife

  • 1238 words
  • 5 minutes