(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, although the species is anadromous. It is one of two extant species in the paddlefish family (Polyodontidae), the other being the American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula). The Chinese paddlefish is critically endangered and has not been seen in more than a decade, leading to fears that it may already be extinct.
In Chinese this paddlefish is also called "elephant fish" (象魚; xiàngyú) because its snout vaguely 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 giant 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).
Range and habitat
The Chinese paddlefish is restricted to China, where found in the Yangtze River basin (Chang Jiang) and its estuary at the East China Sea. Historically it was also recorded in Yellow River basin (which is connected to the Yangtze by the Grand Canal) and its estuary at the Yellow Sea.
Chinese paddlefish spend part of their life in the lower section of the Yangtze, including the brackish water of its estuary, but migrate up the river and its major tributaries to spawn, which occur from March and April. It generally stays in large rivers, but sometimes occur in large lakes.
The underbelly of the Chinese paddlefish is white, and its back and head grey. They reach sexual maturity at a weight of around 25 kg (55 lb), usually by the time they are age seven or eight, with a typical body length of 2 m (6 ft 7 in). Anecdotal reports indicate the Chinese paddlefish can reach 7 m (23 ft) in length and weight up to a 500 kg (1,100 lb), or even several thousand pounds. Limited research has been conducted on the species maximum size and weight as a result of its endangered status and lack of sightings over the years. A more generally accepted maximum size is 300 kg (660 lb) in weight and 3 m (10 ft) in length, although the specimen caught in 2007 was 3.6 m (12 ft) long.
The Chinese paddlefish has been listed as a first-level protected animal of the People's Republic of China since 1983 and on CITES Appendix II since 1998. Due to overfishing and habitat loss, the Chinese paddlefish is considered critically endangered by the IUCN. The schooling young were easily caught by traditional fishing methods. Dams, notably the Gezhouba Dam and Three Gorges Dam, divided the populations and prevented their up- and downstream breeding migration.
The last records of Chinese paddlefish in the Yellow River basin and its estuary are from the 1960s. In its main range, the Yangtze basin, the species has also strongly declined, but was still found in some numbers in the 1980s (for example, 32 were caught in 1985) and young were seen as recent as 1995. Since 2000, there have only been three confirmed sightings of the fish alive, all from the Yangtze basin: The first was a 3.3-metre (11 ft), 117-kilogram (258 lb) female caught at Nanjing in 2002 and the second a 3.52-metre (11.5 ft) female caught at Yibin on January 24, 2003; the former died despite attempts to save it and the latter was radio-tagged and released, but the tag stopped working after only 12 hours. The third and most recent was a 3.6-metre (12 ft), 250-kilogram (550 lb) specimen captured by illegal fishing on January 8, 2007, in Jiayu County. Local villagers contacted officials who rushed to the site. Zeb Hogan of the TV-series 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. During a search conducted in the Yangtze basin from 2006–2008, a research team from the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Science in Jingzhou failed to catch any paddlefish, but two probable specimens were recorded with hydroacoustic signals. Although very small numbers might survive, many scientists now consider the Chinese paddlefish to be extinct.
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