Experts call for ten-year fishing moratorium in Yangtze River after previous efforts pay off

09:42, April 09, 2011      

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Coming from a fishing family along the Yangtze River, Wu Xiaoming did not become a fisherman like his father and grandfather, but instead sought employment in the coastal province of Guangdong right after high school.

"Sooner is better than later," said Wu of his decision to abandon the fishing business. Wu, now 24, works in an electronics factory in Shunde county, Foshan City that mainly exports its products to the United States and Europe.

"There are fewer fish in the Yangtze River compared with past decades. I am afraid one day there will be no fish to catch, so it is a matter of time before we have to make a living through other means," said Wu, whose hometown is in Xinzhou District of Wuhan City, Hubei provincial capital.

Wu's neighbor, 44-year-old Hu Zhengbin, still carries on his family's tradition and has been a fisherman for more than 20 years.

"I witnessed the declining catch as well as the rebound after the three-month fishing ban that was enacted ten years ago," said Hu.

The Yangtze River, China's longest waterway, drains one-fifth of the country's land area and its river basin is home to one-third of its population.

The biggest annual catch before 2002 was 427,000 tonnes in the Hubei section of the Yangtze River, but it dropped to less than 100,000 tonnes in 2002, according to statistics from the provincial fishery bureau.

A spring moratorium pilot program took place in the middle and lower reaches of the river in 2002. An annual moratorium followed in 2003, covering the entire river.

At first, many fishermen did not support the moratorium. "Many old fishermen even thought that the moratorium was to prevent them from making a living," said Hu.

Many have now come around. Hu now supports the moratorium due to its "visible" benefits.

"I can catch more fish now. I now even can get Saury sometimes, which has been very rare over the last few years. I can sell Saury at a good price," said Hu.

The fishermen also receive a monthly subsidy of 200 yuan (30.6 U.S. dollars) to 300 yuan. Hu has received 240 yuan in subsidies.

"The subsidy helps support our living costs during the moratorium. Many fishermen also take the time to seek employment elsewhere," said Hu.

The current moratorium allows fish to spawn, but it is not enough to protect young fish. Most of the fish that fishermen caught were baby fish which have little economic value, but greatly affect the future fish population, said Xie Songguang, a Saury expert with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"So I call for a ten-year moratorium. Ten years is enough for fish to reproduce for three or four generations, which will significantly improve the Yangtze River's fishing resources," said Xie.

Wang Zhaomin, head of the fishery bureau, echoed this proposal. A ten-year moratorium is plausible, since the annual consumption of freshwater fish is 3.53 million tonnes in China, while the amount from the Yangtze River is only 100,000 tonnes, less than one-thirtieth of the national total. Thus, it will not greatly affect the overall supply, according to Wang.

The number of fishermen is also decreasing, with around 50,000 fishermen along the Yangtze River at present. Helping them find other forms of employment can guarantee their livelihood, said Wang.

Fisherman Hu Zhengbin said "Many young people seek employment in more developed regions. I want to follow suit, so the ten-year moratorium is a good thing."

Source: Xinhua
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