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(E. von Martens, 1862)
Chinese paddlefish, Psephurus gladius (simplified Chinese: 白鲟; traditional Chinese: 白鱘; pinyin: báixún), also known as Chinese swordfish, are among the largest freshwater fish. It is one of two extant species in the paddlefish family (Polyodontidae), the other being the American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula). It is also called "elephant fish" (象魚; xiàngyú) because its snout resembles an elephant trunk. It is recorded sometimes in Classical Chinese as wěi-fish (鮪). More poetically, it is sometimes referred to as the "Giant Panda of the Rivers", not because of any physical resemblance to a panda, but because of its rarity and protected status. The origin of its binomial name comes from the Greek words pseph (pebble) and phoreus (bearer of), which when combined, also shares the meaning of the Greek word psepharos (gloomy/cloudy one.)
The Chinese paddlefish is a first-level protected animal of the People's Republic of China. Its belly is white and back and head grey. They live mostly in the middle or lower part of the Yangtze (Chang Jiang), occasionally in large lakes. They feed on other fish, as well as small amounts of crabs and crayfish. Paddlefish are sexually mature at age seven or eight, with a typical body length of 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) and a weight of 25 kilograms (55 lb).
It is said that the Chinese paddlefish can grow to 7.0 metres (23 ft) and weigh 500 kilograms (1,100 lb), but little research on a maximum size can be conducted today due to the species' scarcity. Zoologist Bǐng Zhì (秉志) is said to have recorded a 7-metre paddlefish caught by fishermen around the 1950s, although the authenticity of this story is unconfirmed.
Due to overfishing, the Chinese paddlefish is critically endangered now, and officially recognized by the People's Republic in 1983 to prevent fishing of paddlefish young or adults. Paddlefish are also threatened by dams (such as the Three Gorges Dam) which divide the population into isolated groups. The fish are rarely seen, recently raising concerns that the species might already be extinct. During a three-year search conducted from 2006–2008 a research team from the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Science in Jingzhou failed to find even one specimen. The last confirmed sighting of the fish alive occurred January 24, 2003, on the Yangtze. However, a 3.6-metre (12 ft), 250-kilogram (550 lb) specimen was captured by illegal fishing on January 8, 2007, in Jiayu County. Local villagers contacted officials who rushed to the site. Zeb Hogan of Monster Fish on National Geographic Channel and other conservationists transferred the fish to a holding pen in hope that it would survive, but it died shortly afterwards due to unrecoverable injuries sustained while thrashing in the net.
- Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2010). "Psephurus gladius" in FishBase. July 2010 version.
- Qiwei, W. (2010). "Psephurus gladius". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 15 May 2014. Listed as Critically Endangered (CR A2cd; C2a(i); D v3.1)