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Saving the sucker fish
( 2003-08-11 11:29) (eastday.com)

Pollution and over fishing make the Chinese sucker near extinction. To protect the precious species, a group of the local East China Normal University professors are preaching the benefits of biodiversity and ecological balance, reports Xu Wei It's a tale being repeated too often in various parts around the world. Too many species are facing extinction -- largely due to humanity's infringement of natural habitats or excessive pollution.

The Chinese sucker fish, the only type of mullet in Asia, belongs to a group of unfortunate, endangered species in China.

``Intelligent as man is, it's not wise to prevail over nature or develop the economy at the expense of our environment to which our fate is closely connected,'' says Yang Zaifu, a PhD biology graduate from East China Normal University. ``It's terrible to imagine that one day only human beings might be left on the planet.''

To Shanghainese, the Chinese sucker is well known. Located mainly in the Yangtze River, a large group of Chinese suckers once dwelled in suburban Qingpu District's Dianshan Lake -- the only natural lake in Shanghai and upstream of the Huangpu River. With red stripes on the body and distinctively tall fins like sails, the fish symbolizes prosperity and success, and is considered the ``lucky fish'' by natives in Guangdong Province. However, in the past 50 years, Dianshan Lake has witnessed a sharp decrease in its water quality that has put pressure on the living environment of all its inhabitants. More than 40 percent of freshwater fish species' populations have shrunk rapidly.

Worse still, some rare species, including the Chinese sucker, gurnet and Sungkiang weever are near extinction. Once crowned ``the paradise of fish,'' Dianshan Lake produced an annual output of more than 2,000 tons of fish in the 1950s. But today the annual output is shocking -- less than 10 tons. What's wrong with the ``paradise?'' Together with professors Chen Liqiao and Chen Yong, Yang has conducted a three-year research project on the lake's environment and aquaculture.

Heavy pollution, excessive fishing and obstruction of the spawning migration route are the main factors behind the dwindling fish stocks. With dams universally built around the lake, a large number of fish have been blocked from reaching natural spawning grounds, posing a direct threat to the replenishment of stocks. Cruel fishing methods such as poisoning and shock have also reduced adult Chinese sucker populations during the annual spawning season. ``Many fishermen complain about the decreasing amount of species and numbers of fish,'' Yang says. ``But they just do not know what a caught fish means to the survival of the whole group.''

The Chinese sucker -- awarded the silver medal at the Singapore International Ornamental Fish Exhibition in 1989 -- isn't the only species at risk on the Chinese mainland. Giant pandas, red-crowned cranes and Chinese sturgeon are also on the protection list now. Aware of the challenges ahead, Yang strongly calls for the development of public sense to preserve the country's biodiversity.

In addition to providing a healthy regional eco-system, biodiversity helps humans in another significant area -- conquering stubborn diseases and improving the quality of life. Each species is a valuable resource for medical and biological research. The ``extinction of any species is a great loss,'' says Chen, Yang's former teacher.

However, rescuing the valuable, yet endangered species remains problematic. Since the beginning of this year, the central government has authorized thorough inspections of dams and water locks along the Yangtze River to remove those blocking the spawning migration route of Chinese suckers.

In addition to restoring Dianshan Lake's ecosystem and strictly controlling discharged pollutants, Chen says it is crucial to enhance public awareness of the importance of sustainable development. In cooperation with colleagues, mainly from the Life Science College at the local East China Normal University, Chen and Yang plan to rebuild the species by artificial propagation.

``Encouraged by successful cases in Guangdong and Fujian provinces, we have confidence in protecting the endangered species,'' Yang smiles. ``As a return, the fish will promise huge economic gains from its ornamental and edible value.''

As for Yang, Chen and other scholars devoted to protecting the endangered fish, they have a dream of raising people's concern for the planet's other inhabitants around the world. Finding Chinese Sucker Scientifically called Myxocyprinus asiaticus, Chinese suckers live in lakes or rivers. The baby and adult fish have different shapes, as well as different biological habits.

* Shape -- High body with flat sides, which look like a square. Its head is sharp and short with a small mouth. The lips are fat and thick, which turn upwards like a sucker. The fins on its back are tall and long. A distinctive red perpendicular strip is on the middle of its body. * Characteristics -- Large size. Grows quickly. It has a docile character, yet remains full of vitality. It eats many things and is ideal for fish farming. * Category -- Pisces, Cypriniformes and Myxocyprinidae * Distribution -- Yangtze River and Jinsha River areas.

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