China Energy Industry

China’s State Council issues death sentence for legendary Yangtze fish

(January 6, 2012) The Xiaonanhai hydro project, slated for the Yangtze River, poses a threat to China’s most precious wild fish and the supremacy of the law, say Chinese environmentalists and scientists.

By Patricia Adams for Probe International

The developers of the Xiaonanhai Dam on the upper Yangtze River have a problem. Their proposed hydro project encroaches on an important protected fish reserve. Constructing the dam would threaten some of China’s most endangered fish species and violate numerous laws.

Now, the “cabinet” of the Chinese government, the State Council, has come up with a solution. Just redraw the boundaries of the reserve so that the dam no longer encroaches on the fish habitat, at least not on paper.

This gerrymandering of Mother Nature’s ecozones has raised the ire of environmentalists and scientists who say favouring the interest of dam builders over the long term health of the environment, on which Chinese citizens depend, is irrational and unscientific. It is also uneconomic.

Known as the “National Nature Reserve of Rare and Endemic Fish in the Upper Yangtze River,” the ecozone is the last refuge for China’s most economically important wild fish, including four types of wild carp that provide the diverse genetic stock for the country’s fish farms. The legendary Yangtze sturgeon and high fin banded shark are also threatened by the loss of this habitat. By severing the reserve, the dam would critically transform the protected area’s habitat and ecology, and block the only passageway for the fish to reach their breeding grounds.

Now, in an open letter [see below], environmental scientist and geologist, Fan Xiao, and China’s most prominent environmental groups, are calling the State Council’s decision “shameful” and a “major blow to the supremacy of the law and the credibility of the government.”

Open letter by Professor Fan Xiao, a geologist and environmental scientist in China, endorsed by Chinese environmental groups, Friends of Nature and Green Earth Volunteers, concerning the construction of the Xiaonanhai Dam in the National Nature Reserve of Rare and Endemic Fish in the Upper Yangtze River.

December 16, 2011

On December 12, 2011, China’s cabinet, the State Council, issued Decree No. 156, stating its support for the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s redrawing of the boundaries of the National Nature Reserve of Rare and Endemic Fish in the Upper Yangtze River. On December 14, 2011 at 16:26 this notice was promulgated on the website of The Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China.

This modification to the boundaries of the “National Nature Reserve of Rare and Endemic Fish in the Upper Yangtze River” is intended to eliminate the obstacles associated with the proposed Yangtze River’s Xiaonanhai Hydropower Station. The size of the protected area will drastically shrink as a result. The dam will also sever the only passageway of rare and endemic fish to their breeding grounds, critically transforming the protected area’s natural habitat and ecology. This approval not only damages the entire structure and function of the Reserve, but also seriously undermines conservation targets and goals. Furthermore, it violates relevant rules stipulated by the People’s Republic of China’s “Environmental Protection Law,” “Wildlife Protection Law,” “Regulations on Nature Reserves,” “Regulations on Amending the Range and Function and Changing the Names of National Nature Reserves.”

When deliberating on decisions concerning issues of great import and for major projects, the government should make the overall interests of citizens and society its priority. It should exercise justice, promote harmony, and administer its public responsibilities in accordance with the law, and not succumb to its own or to industries’ short-term interests. Doing so undermines the interests of society and future generations. It also escalates unscientific and irrational development, all the while exacerbating environmental damage. This Reserve’s boundaries were modified earlier, in 2005, to accommodate the construction of the massive Jinsha Hydropower stations downstream. The Ministry of Environmental Protection firmly declared at the time that, “It should be clarified, both in revised planning and in construction, that no more hydropower projects will be developed in the trimmed nature reserve.”

This decision to amend the size of the Reserve, yet again, is a major blow to the supremacy of the law and the credibility of the government. It also represents a serious deviation by the government from its commitment to uphold scientifically sound development that takes into account environmental impacts. These changes to the fish reserve mark a new “milestone” – one that will devastate the Upper Yangtze’s aquatic organisms and ecosystems – and leave behind a shameful chapter in China’s social development and environmental protection.

We hereby express our opposition to modifying the boundaries of the National Nature Reserve of Rare and Endemic Fish in the Upper Yangtze River. We express our opposition to constructing the Xiaonanhai Hydropower Station. And, we call upon all who are concerned about the global environment and the sustainable development of human society to think about the Yangtze River. Protect the Yangtze River!

Fan Xiao (Chinese Citizen, Geologist and Environmental Scientist)

Friends of Nature (Beijing)

Green Earth Volunteers (Beijing)

Read the original Chinese text of the open letter here.

Background Reading

Chinese geologist Fan Xiao’s open letter urging Chinese officials not to destroy rare fish reserve (translated by Probe International)

Three Gorges Dam crisis in slow motion

Chongqing’s biggest dam to start construction

Razing the Last Refuge

Last refuge of rare fish threatened by Yangtze dam plans

China’s environment ministry said review needed for planned dam that threatens Yangtze fish

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