February 27, 2006
Alarmed by a sharp drop in fish populations, China plans to issue its first-ever ban on commercial fishing along the Yangtze River.
Shanghai – Alarmed by a sharp drop in fish populations, China will issue its first-ever ban on commercial fishing along its longest river, the Agriculture Ministry said Thursday. Authorities hope the three-month ban will help reverse decades of overfishing and pollution on the Yangtze River, said an official in the ministry’s fishing resources office. He gave only his surname, Chen. Chen said dwindling fish stocks threaten not only the livelihood of thousands of fishermen, but also one of the planet’s rarest animals – the Yangtze River dolphin. Less than 100 of the dolphins are believed to survive in the Yangtze River, their only natural habitat. It is one of only four freshwater dolphin species in the world. The ministry decided to issue the ban after the river’s commercial fishermen reported their annual take had fallen to below 100,000 tons a year, Chen said. That’s less than a fourth of what Yangtze fishermen routinely caught in the 1950s, he said. Also, few of the fish they now catch are adults. Most are undersized juveniles – a sign that fish populations are not being given a chance to regenerate, he said. The ban, which covers most of the 3,900-mile Yangtze, will take effect in March, when key species like herring breed, Chen said. But the ban may go no further than stabilizing populations at their current sizes, he said. A full-fledged recovery will probably require steep cuts in industrial pollutants and raw household sewage flowing into the river, especially from large cities on the Yangtze like Chongqing. Big hydroelectric projects on the river like the Three Gorges Dam, scheduled to start filling its reservoir in 2003, must also take precautions not to block migration routes, he said. “The fishing ban is necessary, but it is not able to resolve the problem completely,” Chen said. From its headwaters high on the Tibetan plateau, the Yangtze grows into the world’s third-largest river as it cuts across China to the sea near Shanghai.