China’s “freshwater fish king” is extinct

On July 23, Xinhuanet reported that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) officially announced on July 21 that the white sturgeon in the Yangtze River, known as the “king of freshwater fish in China,” has become extinct.

Specifically, in the Red List of Species updated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the morning of July 21, there are all 26 species of sturgeon left in the world that are threatened with extinction. In particular, the sturgeon in the Yangtze River is now extinct.

According to Jimu News, a research paper once revealed that it is estimated the Yangtze river white sturgeon became extinct between 2005 and 2010.

The giant white sturgeon, up to 26 feet in length, is known as the “king of freshwater fishes in China,” weighing up to tens of thousands of pounds.

The Chinese sturgeon in the Yangtze River (scientific name: Acipenser dabryanus) belongs to the family Acipenseridae, one of the few ancient fish species that survivied the Cretaceous period, which lasted about 150 million years. The earliest fossils of sturgeon can be found in the Late Jurassic period. Because of its preciousness, it is also known as the “Underwater Giant Panda.”

The last time scientists from the Yangtze River Fisheries Research Institute of China Fisheries Academy rescued a Yangtze white sturgeon was on the first day of 2003. The white sturgeon was released later, disappeared, and was never seen again.

And this is also the last time white sturgeon was found in the Yangtze River. At the time, scientists did not realize that losing this fish was also losing an entire species.

In mid-September 2019, experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessed that the white sturgeon in the Yangtze River was extinct. For many years, Chinese experts have begun to study the status of white sturgeon according to the IUCN assessment model and have concluded that the white sturgeon may have become extinct between 2005 and 2010, even since 1993. Extinction means the loss of the ability of natural populations to reproduce.

The spawning ground of white sturgeon is in the Jinsha River area in the upper Yangtze River, but there has been no natural spawning of white sturgeon since 1991. Before 1993, people accidentally caught the white sturgeon every one or two years, but since then, none have been seen.

According to the “Ecological and Environmental Monitoring Bulletin of the Three Gorges Project” released by China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, since 2003, no white sturgeon has lived for 16 consecutive years.

Sohu quoted Wei Qiwei, an expert from the Yangtze River Fisheries Research Institute of China Fisheries Academy: “As the dominant species of the Yangtze River, the extinction of the white sturgeon reflects the entire Yangtze River Ecology state.” He said the white sturgeon is a migratory fish in rivers and seas, spawning in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River and the Gezhouba Dam. This first major hydroelectric project on the Yangtze River affected the spawning of white sturgeon. In addition, the increase in human activities such as transportation, fishing, and pollution, especially the decrease in fish stocks in the Yangtze River, has not been able to support the survival of the giant white sturgeon.

As reported by Vision Times, in the 1980s, the Beijing government started building dams on the Yangtze River. The construction of the Gezhouba Dam and the Three Gorges Dam blocked the water flow for the fish to migrate and spawn.

The white sturgeon is semi-migratory and needs to spawn in the upper Yangtze River, but when dams were built, they blocked the spawning and migratory routes of the white sturgeon, thus separating the fish from the spawning area.

After the dam was built, a large number of white sturgeon gathered on both sides of the dam to find a way to cross.

According to the statistics related to the fishery industry, the catch of white sturgeon increased significantly in those years; in addition to white sturgeon caught for eating, white sturgeon caviar was also exported.

Netease quoted the Yixiu Culture and Entertainment Information Express as saying, in the 1970s, a fisherman near the Yangtze River basin said: “At that time, sturgeon meat was pulled on carts into the street and sold, like tofu, without weighing it.”

Another important cause of the white sturgeon’s extinction is the large number of illegal fishing methods used by fishermen for personal gain, causing massive damage to the aquatic ecosystem. For example, electric fishing, fishing with small nets causes fish in the river to be depleted. The white sturgeon fell into a “food crisis” condition, and some experts say “some white sturgeon died of starvation,” according to the Vision Times.

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