Chinese paddlefish declared extinct

Posted on 9 January 2020

The Chinese paddlefish and its relatives flourished in their home, the Yangtze River in China, for over 200 million years. According to National Geographic, the fish survived the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs. Due to loss of habitat and overfishing, however, a recently published paper declared the species extinct.

The Chinese paddlefish was once the largest fresh water fish, measuring up to 7m. These animals hunted for prey by using their elongated snout to detect electrical currents from prey. Their diet consisted of other fish and crustaceans.

According to scientists who published a paper in the Science of the Total Environment, overfishing in the 1970s, where an average of 25 paddlefish were harvested per year, led to the decline of the species.

The Gezhouba Dam, however, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The dam was built over the main stem of the Yangtze, without a fish ladder or way for the fish to swim through. It essentially stopped the paddlefish from reaching their spawning grounds upstream. This was only realised in the late 70s.

‘The Chinese paddlefish was once common in the Yangtze River, with c.25 t being harvested per annum during the 1970s. Populations have, however, declined drastically since the late 1970s as a result of overfishing and habitat fragmentation.

‘Here, a basin-wide capture survey during 2017–2018 found 332 fish species, but did not find a single specimen of Chinese paddlefish. Furthermore, 140 historically reported fish species have not been found and most of them are considered highly endangered.

‘Based on 210 sightings of Chinese paddlefish during the period 1981–2003, we estimated the timing of extinction to be by 2005, and no later than by 2010,’ said the paper.

Speaking to National Geographic, study leader Qiewi Wei from the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, who has been trying to find the fish for decades, said that its extinction is a ‘reprehensible and irreparable loss.’

Read the highlights of the study here.



Image: Twitter, original: Qieqi Wei

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