The Yangtze River habitat is deteriorating severely, officials at a forum in Shanghai said over the weekend.
Fish are dying, there are algae outbreaks, and mice infestations plague its banks, the agriculture, water resources, transportation and environmental protection officials said.
Participants at the forum, which was held to address the health problems facing the river, endorsed the Yangtze River Biological Resources Protection Declaration.
Vice-Minister of Agriculture Niu Dun said rodent infestations in Dongting Lake and blue algae in Taihu Lake were warning signals of worsening conditions, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
"Breeding and protecting biological species in the Yangtze River is extremely urgent," Niu said.
Noted as a gene bank for aquatic flora and fauna, the Yangtze has seen a decline in its fish stocks, both in terms of species and number.
The white-fin dolphin has been living in the Yangtze River for the past 20 million years, but has practically died out due to over fishing, pollution and ferry traffic, Niu said.
The number of Chinese sturgeon, dubbed the "live water fossil", has dropped dramatically over recent decades and its survival could depend on artificial breeding.
Niu urged the establishment of a protection mechanism organized by the relevant departments of the 11 provinces through which the river flows.
He said the responsibilities of the various agencies are unclear and this is one of the reasons for inefficient water protection work.
More significant, Niu said, is pollution by factories along the river.
Forum experts suggested there should be an emergency warning and response system to protect rare species in the river.
Chen Yiyu, director of the National Natural Science Foundation Committee, said preserving the ecological balance of the Yangtze River deserves "maximum effort".
The Yangtze is the third largest river in the world and home to 1,100 aquatic species. One-third of all Chinese live along its banks.
(China Daily September 18, 2007)