The International Union for Conservation of Nature has officially confirmed that the Chinese paddlefish and wild Yangtze sturgeon are extinct on their endangered species list.
The Chinese paddlefish, or Psephurus gladius, was one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, weighing up to 660 pounds and measuring up to 10 feet in length. They were grey, with white bellies and small, round eyes. These fish were endemic to the freshwater wetlands in the Yangtze and Yellow River drainage basins. They migrated upstream to their mouth in the East China Sea to spawn from mid-March to early April.
The Chinese paddlefish has been protected since 1989. As the iconic fish species became economically valued for their rarity, they were fished for human consumption and often as bycatch.
In 1996, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the Chinese paddlefish as critically endangered. The last sighting of this fish in the wild was in 2003.
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In 2005, an integrated restoration program was established to protect the species by studying habitat and foraging behavior, creating captive breeding programs, and conserving genetic resources.
In 2019, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the Chinese paddlefish as extinct on the Red List of Threatened Species. A recent reassessment confirmed the extinction of the Chinese paddlefish.
Another freshwater river fish species, the Yangtze sturgeon or Acipenser dabryanus, was listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2019 Red List of Threatened Species. In the most recent reassessment, the Yangtze sturgeon was classified as extinct in the wild.
The Yangtze sturgeon was endemic to the Yangtze River basin and the Yellow River basin. They are blue-grey with yellowish-white bellies and large blowholes. This species of fish can grow up to 35 pounds and 4.3 feet.
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Since the 1970s, the Yangtze sturgeon has been bred in captivity and released into the Yangtze River basin, but unfortunately not bred in the wild.
Acipenseridae are of economic importance for their culinary valuable caviar, but the world’s remaining 26 sturgeon species are also threatened with extinction. Because female Yangtze sturgeon could lay up to 102,000 eggs and their meat was considered a delicacy in China, they were extensively caught for human consumption.
Both the Chinese paddlefish and the Yangtze sturgeon are a result of human impacts and environmental degradation such as overfishing and overharvesting, habitat fragmentation, deforestation, mining, water pollution (sewage and runoff), and dams. The construction of the Gezhouba Dam and the Three Gorges Dams blocked the Chinese paddlefish’s anadromous migration and reduced its reproduction for offspring.
Featured image via New China TV (left) and CBS News (right)