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2016-06-11 04:16:53

Fishermen and environmentalists alike have long complained fish are dying out in the Yangtze, China’s longest river. On June 1, the Ministry of Agriculture published a draft plan to ban fishing on the river from 2020.

The ban is part of a blueprint calling for “opinions on strengthening Yangtze aquatic organisms,” and will have to be approved by the State Council, China’s cabinet, for it to become effective. The document went largely unnoticed until Chinese media reported on it earlier this week.

A spring moratorium on fishing in the Yangtze has been in effect since 2003. But it has not saved some species — such as the baiji, a fresh water dolphin, and the Chinese paddlefish — from extinction.

Data from the ministry shows the Yangtze populations of four fish species that are commonly caught for food have been reduced by 97 percent compared to the 1950s.

Cao Wenxuan, researcher at the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, located in Wuhan, in the central Chinese province of Hubei, told Sixth Tone in an earlier interview that he had suggested a moratorium on fishing in the Yangtze back in 2006. “At least a 10-year ban would give enough time for most fish species to grow back,” he said. “This kind of overfishing is destructive and unsustainable.”

Although a prohibition might finally come to fruition, challenges remain — for both fish and men. Some 140,000 fishermen currently depend on the river for a living. And big dams, pollution, shipping, and other human activities still make life difficult for the river’s fish.

For example, Chinese sturgeons, an endangered fish species, migrate up the river to their spawning grounds every year. Dams built on the river since the 1980s have brought their numbers down from 10,000 in the 1970s to less than 100 today.

For increasing the population of species like the Chinese sturgeon, the document also sets the goal of turning 30 percent of the river into reserve areas without any economic activity, as well as releasing small fish to enhance reproduction levels.

The draft plan comes after Chinese president Xi Jinping called for better environmental protection of the Yangtze river in January, and announced a suspension of large-scale development projects along its banks.

(Header image: A fishing net is seen in front of a boat on the Yangtze River during the spring moratorium on fishing, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province, March 31, 2015. Chen Gang/VCG)