Largest sum of fry released into Yangtze
Aquatic populations in the Yangtze, China's longest river, multiplied by millions Thursday morning, as the country released an unprecedented number of fish fry into the water to help replenish dwindling fishery stocks.
"We are pouring nearly 400 million fry of rare aquatic and commercially important fish species into the river," said Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin.
The move was aimed at contributing to the sustainable development of fisheries and improvement of ecological system in the Yangtze, he said Thursday at a fry releasing ceremony in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province.
Hubei, where one-sixth of the 6,300-kilometre river winds through, released sturgeons and four species of carp farmed in China into the river. Nine other provinces and municipalities along the river did the same Thursday.
In Wuhan alone, 10,000 artificially-bred Chinese sturgeons, including 300 more than 1 metre long, were put into the river together with 10,000 carp fry.
The fry release, which coincided with the World Earth Day, is the largest amount in recent years, said Li Jianhua, vice-director of the ministry's Fisheries Bureau.
A species 140 million years old, the Chinese sturgeon is the oldest kind of fish in the Yangtze and one of the oldest vertebrates in the world. They are dubbed "living fossils" of the Yangtze River and are under top protection in China, just like giant pandas.
The Chinese sturgeon and other sturgeon species in the river have been so depleted that they are currently on the World Conservation Union Red List of Threatened Species.
Gen Xianchuan, a Wuhan resident, said 30 years ago local residents could see Chinese sturgeons just standing on a ship.
"Youngsters nowadays can probably only see them on TV or in an aquarium," said the 53-year-old. "Illegal fishing plus industrial waste might have taken them all from the river."
And the problem has affected more than just the rare species.
Over-harvesting, dams, and pollution have combined in recent years to drastically reduce the annual aquatic catch in the river to 100,000 tons in recent years, less than one-fourth of what Yangtze River Valley fishermen caught in 1954, when the take reached 427,000 tons, said bureau sources.
Historically, the Yangtze River contributes 60 per cent of China's total annual freshwater catch and the four species of carp -- black, grass, silver and big-head carp -- make up half of the Yangtze's annual fish output, said Li.
To help reverse the dwindling fish populations, China has imposed a moratorium on fishing along the Yangtze for the second year, idling fishing boats on the middle and lower reaches for three months starting April 1, and banning fishing on the upper reaches of the river from February 1 to April 30.
Yang Limin, director of the Yangtze Programme of the World Wildlife Fund for China, said the fry release will help popularize resource conservation and ecological protection among the public, in addition to helping supplement wild populations.
But it is also of paramount importance to improve the living habitat of the aquatic species, which calls for intensified pollution prevention efforts.