The country's first law to protect endangered Chinese sturgeons will go into effect in Shanghai this year. Fewer than 3,000 of the "living fossils" remain.
"The law stipulates clearly which government departments will take the main responsibilities and what exactly to do to protect the fish," said Jiao Yang, spokeswoman for the Shanghai municipal government, in a Wednesday press conference.
All fishing will be prohibited between May 1 and September 30, when the sturgeons, a CITES-listed endangered species, are usually found around the east coast of Shanghai's Chongming Island.
The fish spawn in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River but travel to the estuary to mature.
Jiao said the ban will not have an impact the city's fish supply. "The area used to produce about 300 tons of fish every year, an inconsiderable part of Shanghai's more than 650,000 tons of annual consumption."
Outside the banned period, any person wanting to fish must obtain a license from the local authorities. Preferential policies are being considered by the Shanghai Municipal Agricultural Commission to help fishermen affected by the ban to find other work.
"Other activities that might threaten the environment in the area are also forbidden, like discharging waste, explosions, drilling and dredging, all of which we have witnessed in recent years," said Jiao. "Even scientific research will be limited."
The law includes detailed descriptions about what to do when an injured, stranded or dead sturgeon is found and where to call for help. Facilities will be set up in the area to treat injured fish and some veterinarians will be stationed there.
"Last year, we saved about 120 Chinese sturgeons in the area," said Liu.
In 2002, Shanghai marked the east coast of Chongming Island, about 276 square kilometers, as a nature reserve for the sturgeons, the first and still the largest of its kind in the country. The reserve area is adjusted periodically to accommodate changes in the distribution of the fish as well as geographical alterations caused by tides and weather.
The rare Chinese sturgeon shared the planet with the dinosaurs, tracing its direct ancestors back to the Mesozoic Era (65 to 144 million years ago).
In a survey conducted last year, only 500 sturgeons were spawned in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. The number has plummeted in recent years owing to the deterioration of the environment.
"The sturgeons might die out in five years unless appropriate measures are taken immediately," said Liu.
China has started to offset the negative impact of environmental degradation by artificially breeding and releasing sturgeon fry into the river.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 6.3 million fry were released into the Yangtze River from artificial breeding centers between 1983 and 2004. In the three years from 1999 to 2002, the country released 300,000 sturgeon fry longer than 10 centimeters.
However, Zhang Li, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare China office, said that more must be done to monitor the fish after they are released into the river. The survival rate of artificially bred Chinese sturgeons is only about 1 percent.
(China Daily March 17, 2005)