Published: 12:07, August 29, 2023 | Updated: 12:13, August 29, 2023
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Species beginning to recover in Yangtze
By Tan Yingzi and Deng Rui in Chongqing

Rare fish rebound in Chongqing section of river thanks to 10-year moratorium

Workers with the Chongqing Agricultural Comprehensive Administrative Law Enforcement Corps prepare to launch an inspection of the Yangtze River in Chongqing. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Rare and endangered fish species such as the Yangtze sturgeon, a fish under first-class State protection in China, are being discovered more frequently in the Chongqing section of the Yangtze River than two years ago, according to a report released by the municipal government on Aug 16.

Monitoring of 133 local fish species shows that biodiversity in that area of the Yangtze River Basin is beginning to recover, with the number of rare fish species and aquatic resources increasing.

Stretching over 6,300 kilometers, the Yangtze has rich biodiversity, but overfishing and pollution have threatened aquatic life and depleted fish stocks.

On Jan 1, 2021, China imposed a 10-year fishing ban in the Yangtze's pivotal waters to help reverse the trend.

In July that year, Chongqing issued detailed rules, including designating specific areas and time limits for individual fishing, in an effort to help correct the problem.

"Positive progress as a result of the fishing ban has been made in Chongqing," said Mo Jie, deputy director of the Chongqing Agricultural and Rural Affairs Bureau, at a news conference in Chongqing on July 3. Mo added that this year marks the third year of the city's 10-year ban, as well as the last year of its three-year plan to strengthen the policy.

Workers prepare to release Chinese suckers into the Yangtze. (RAN MENGJUN / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Mo noted that currently, efforts to find other work for fishermen who had to give up their jobs have been successful, illegal fishing has effectively been curbed, and fishing boats and nets in rivers and lakes have been mostly cleared.

As a result of these actions, aquatic biodiversity is showing early signs of being restored.

The municipal public security bureau, agriculture and rural affairs commission and market regulators have made joint efforts to crack down on the illegal fishing industrial chain — fishing, transportation, processing and sales.

The report said that as of June this year, the city has handled 3,465 administrative fishing cases, 1,206 of which were related to crimes. A total of 2,390 suspects from 198 criminal gangs have been arrested, with more than 7,200 kilograms of illegal catch seized.

Furthermore, the number of illegal fishing cases in the Chongqing sections of the Yangtze and its tributaries — the main streams of the Jialing and Wujiang rivers — has declined significantly.

It said cross-regional cooperation between Chongqing and the neighboring provinces of Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan and Guizhou, as well as technological measures, including an AI warning and monitoring system that helps detect illegal fishing activity, have helped strengthen the ban's effectiveness.

"A total of 957 early warning points in key mainstream areas in the Yangtze, Jialing and Wujiang rivers have been set up using the technology," said Li Qifan from the Chongqing Agricultural Comprehensive Administrative Law Enforcement Corps. "Its biggest edge is that, besides data recording and analysis, it can carry out smart monitoring, identification of suspects and illegal fishing alerts."

Rare fish fry are bred at the Wanzhou Fisheries Research Institute. (RAN MENGJUN / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Moreover, the local human resources and civil affairs departments have helped former fishermen by offering job training courses and subsidies.

To date, more than 10,000 citywide fishermen have retired from their jobs on the river, with 7,000 finding work in other industries. All are receiving financial support from social security funds, the report said.

The city has also been working on fish source protection. In June last year, the first veterinary ship for sick fish in the Yangtze basin began sailing in the Chongqing section.

The breeding of rare fish conducted by technicians in the city's fishery research institutes has contributed to preventing species from becoming extinct.

For example, as early as 1976, the Wanzhou Fisheries Research Institute in Chongqing took the lead in the captive breeding of Chinese suckers (Myxocyprinus asiaticus), which has also been under second-class State protection since 1989, according to the director of the institute Liu Benxiang.

About 70 million rare fish that they've bred, including the Yangtze sturgeon and Chinese suckers, have been released into the Three Gorges Reservoir area in the past decade.

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