Experts in China have declared the extinction of the giant Chinese paddlefish, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish. Once a resident of the Yangtze River, it hasn’t been seen since 2003, and it’s thought it died out sometime between 2005 and 2010.
The Chinese paddlefish was a giant, measuring up to 10 feet in length and nearly 700 pounds at maturity. The species was likely doomed to extinction as early as 1993, the last year that there were enough known breeding pairs to sustain the population. Efforts at breeding the fish in captivity proved unsuccessful.
According to the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, the Chinese paddlefish was a living fossil – “one of only two extant members of a relict lineage that was most diverse and widespread 34-75 million years ago.” Its smaller Western relative, the American paddlefish, survives today on the Mississippi River; the IUCN considers it vulnerable due to fishing pressures and competition from invasive species on its historical range. (The American paddlefish is also farmed in quantity in China.)
The loss of the Chinese paddlefish marks the third extinction on the Yangtze in recent decades: the Yangtze River dolphin was declared extinct in 2006 and the reeves shad in 2015. At least three other species – the Chinese sturgeon, the Yangtze turtle and the finless porpoise – may be next. In response, Beijing has enacted a 10-year ban on commercial fishing on the Yangtze, beginning this month and taking full effect early next year. The estimated 280,000 fishermen affected by the ban will be provided with retraining and financial assistance.
The Chinse government hopes that the ban will allow the dwindling fish stocks and declining biodiversity of the river to replenish, and has offered to retrain fishers in the meantime.
“The fishing ban is a key measure to effectively curb the decline of the river’s ecosystem and any further drop in biodiversity,” Yu Zhenkang, vice-minister of agriculture and rural affairs, said in the announcement.