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    Fish in inland sea in danger of extinction

2004-06-07 06:39

At Tianjin's Beitang dock on Bohai Bay, fishermen just returned from sea waited for traders. But on Su Baochun's fishing ship, there were no fish but small shrimps merely one centimetre long, which can only be used as raw material to make shrimp paste.

"We did not bother about catching the small shrimps before, but we have to do it nowadays because it is hard to get fish in the Bohai Sea," said the 37-year-old fisherman, looking very worried.

Su's family has been fishing in the Bohai Sea for several generations. He recalled that 10 years ago, one trip to the sea could bring home at least 800 fish. The ship is much better than before, but the output keeps dropping.

"I can only get 300 fish at most each time, even in the best season," said Su.

Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture show that in the last 20 years, the output of prawns, particularly at the Bohai Sea, has gone down by 90 per cent. Some major types of fish used to account for about 70 per cent of the total aquatic products of the Bohai Sea in the 1950s. But in 1976, the percentage went down to 4.3.

Now, no creature in the sea can be found in large groups.

The Bohai Bay, once honoured as "the storehouse of fish," has few fish for the fishermen now.

"The key reason is pollution," said Wei Derong, an official with the Tanggu Aquatic Products Bureau in Tianjin.

Pollution harbouring no fish

The polluted area in the Bohai Sea rose from less than 26 per cent in 1992 to 41.3 per cent in 2002, and almost all the spawning places are polluted, according to statistics provided by the State Oceanic Administration.

No red tide was recorded in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the harmful algae bloom swarmed the sea three times. Since the 1980s, red tides have struck the Bohai Sea more than 40 times, causing economic losses worth several billion yuan.

"In the past, a variety of fish came to lay eggs here. Today, many of them do not come," said Zhang Liqiang, a fisherman in Beitang. Even common local fish are rare now, said Zhang, who now in his 50s has to go from the inland sea farther out to the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea in search of better harvests.

In Wuli River of Huludao City, a small river in North China Liaoning Province that enters the Bohai Sea, there are many fences made of corn stalks. These are the local people's invention to collect petroleum from nearby refineries, chemical plants and petrochemical factories. The small river absorbs 2,000 tons of waste water every year from these factories. In some parts of the river, the floating oil is as thick as two to four millimetres.

The Bohai Sea is China's only inland sea and the main pollutant absorber in North China. Every year, 2.8 billion tons of waste water flow into the sea from Beijing and Tianjin municipalities, as well as Hebei, Liaoning, and Shandong provinces, accounting for 32 per cent of the country's total amount of waste water discharged into the seas. Besides, the sea also absorbs more than 700,000 tons of solid pollutants, or 48 per cent of the total amount the country dumps into the seas.

Apart from pollution, over-fishing is another major reason for the reduction of fish. Statistics show that in the 1950s, the number of fishermen in collectives was no more than 60,000. Then, the staff increased by 10,000 every 10 years. The number of fishing ships also rose from 11,000 in the 1970s to nearly 30,000 in 2003.

"Over-fishing is very dangerous, but it would not cause the extinction of fish," said Wei Derong, who considered pollution the biggest fish killer.

A survey by the Environmental Institute of Peking University found that, due to the increase of pollutants, some fish in the Bohai Sea had shown bisexual symptoms. The bisexual rate has reached 32 per cent among barracudas.

"It means these fish have lost reproductive ability and might become extinct in the future," said Hu Jianying, an environment professor in Peking University.

The Bohai Sea could even be dead in 10 years if no effective measures are taken, warned ocean monitoring experts.

In October 2001, the State Administration of Environmental Protection launched an action plan to make the Bohai Sea blue again. The five-year plan, with a subsidy of 55.5 billion yuan (US$6.7 billion), is going into effect.

The speed of pollution has been lowered, but the situation is still serious, said sources with the administration.

Less fish, less income.

"Only a few fishing ships can make money now," said Zhou Baoshu, director of the Fishermen's Association in Beitang.

As fishing days are getting harder, Su Baochun has fired two employees, but he still suffers.

"If it goes on like this, I may have to give up fishing next year," said Su, even if he is unwilling to leave the profession passed down by his father and his father's father.

(China Daily 06/07/2004 page5)