BEIJING – As the public laments the extinction of the Chinese paddlefish, a flagship species of the Yangtze River, and calls for greater protection of existing unique aquatic species, experts are finding that careful hydraulic engineering, artificial reproduction and protection of ponds entire slopes are needed to save the critically endangered fish.
A 10-year fishing ban, better bio-conservation technologies and stricter permitting procedures for hydropower projects can hopefully alleviate the enormous pressure these species face and prevent them from suffering the same fate as the Chinese paddlefish, they said.
The Chinese paddlefish was declared extinct on Thursday by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its renewed Red List of Threatened Species.
The Yangtze sturgeon has been reported as “extinct in the wild” and the Chinese sturgeon as “critically endangered”.
A study by a Chinese conservation team published in 2019 had already declared the Chinese paddlefish extinct because no live specimens had been seen since 2003.
The Chinese paddlefish is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world and can measure up to seven meters in length. It has lived on earth for 125 million years and is therefore called a “living fossil”.
While social media users lamented the species on social media, some suspected its extinction was linked to the giant Three Gorges Dam, saying water projects were disrupting its reproductive migration.
But since paddlefish was on the verge of extinction as early as the late 1990s, the Gezhouba Dam, which began construction in 1981 and entered service in 1988, may have played a bigger role, according to the observers.
Wei Qiwei, co-author of the 2019 study and an expert in sturgeon conservation, said that in addition to disrupting reproduction, overfishing was making food scarce for paddlefish, while booming river traffic and sand mining killed fish outright or devastated the riverbed where paddlefish rest and forage.
The “critically endangered” Chinese sturgeon, which migrates from estuaries to the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River, must go for an artificial spawning ground downstream of the Gezhouba.
Wei’s team is monitoring the situation of the sturgeon and no natural reproduction of the species has been detected since 2017 due to an insufficient number of fish being able to return from the sea to the middle due to the destruction of the sea and the only artificial spawning, the ground is incomparable to that natural above the dam.
The Chinese paddlefish died out before it could be artificially bred, but large numbers of artificially bred Chinese sturgeon are released each year to maintain the population of the species.
Wei stressed that a clear delegation of responsibilities and funding is necessary to make protection efforts more effective.
The decline of wild species is a global trend and aquatic species are in a more dangerous situation than land species. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services under the UN, land species’ population dropped around 40 percent while the declines for freshwater and marine species were 84 and 35 percent.
The sturgeon’s situation is an epitome — 18 out of 26 sturgeons are at the brink of extinction, according to the IUCN.
- Global Times