The Chinese paddlefish is one of the oldest fish that swam the Yangtze River in China. These fish were here when dinosaurs flourished. They survived that epoch and came to the age of bamboo and pandas. At the end of it, they finally came across humans. They have been here for close to 200 million years.
Their long, tapered snout was useful in locating both predators and prey, but overfishing and construction of dams were beyond their abilities to predict and protect themselves. Science of the Total Environment reported this, wherein a new study dedicated to the Chinese Paddlefish was published.
Qiwei Wei, the leading researcher of the study, mentioned that this was an unforgivable loss that could potentially destroy the ecological balance of the area. Qiwei Wei hailed from the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences and had been on a search for the Chinese Paddlefish for years.
Zeb Hogan from the University of Nevada stated how it was a very tragic incident. Although not directly involved with the study, Hogan mentioned that the loss of such a unique animal should be an eye-opener for conservationists to protect other freshwater animals. He went on to say that while the Chinese Paddlefish was the first large freshwater species to be extinct, others might soon follow. The crisis is at hand, and if steps aren’t taken immediately, things could get dire in the next 15 years. But he hopes that suitable actions would be taken and balance restored in the ecosystem.
While one of the reasons for the critical stage of the paddlefish was overfishing, scientists believe that the main reason was the construction of the Gezhouba dam. This dam cut off the passageway to the upstream where the paddlefish reproduced. Unfortunately, the mistake was discovered way later into the 1970s.
Although the population continued to dwindle, it couldn’t be measured as to how much was left, and which stage did the Chinese paddlefish fall on the IUCN list. Ivan Jaric tells us that sometimes, there is a significant gap between cause and effect which prevents the appropriate distribution of information, in this case, about the population of the Chinese Paddlefish. Yet, there have been estimates that the paddlefish was functionally extinct back in 1993.
From individual sightings to tagging fish, everything was tried out but to no avail. Most researchers are of the notion that conservation methods should have started from the 1990s when they were reported to be functionally extinct. In retrospect, the study mentioned the time of extinction to be 2005-2010.
While the researchers didn’t stop looking, it was entirely ascertained that the fish was extinct. The scientists used nets, electric gear for fishing, sonar, travelled the length of the Yangtze where the fish were supposed to be found in shoals, but tragedy had struck. It was at this point that they decided to calculate the population at present mathematically. This was based on the sample size of the previous population and the sightings at infrequent intervals.
Although Jaric says that there could be a chance that the Chinese paddlefish hasn’t turned extinct and is indeed alive, the chances are incredibly negligible.
Featured image: shankar s.