Iconic Chinese paddlefish and wild Yangtze sturgeon officially declared extinct

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has officially verified that the Chinese paddlefish and wild Yangtze sturgeon are extinct on their list of threatened species.

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 gray, had a white underbelly and small, round eyes. These fish were endemic to the freshwater wetlands in the Yangtze and Yellow River basins. They migrated upstream to their estuary in the East China Sea to spawn during mid-March to early April.

The Chinese paddlefish had been protected since 1989. Because the iconic fish species was 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 critically endangered. The last sighting of this fish in the wild was in 2003.

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In 2005, an integrated recovery program was established to safeguard the species by investigating habitat and foraging behaviors, creating captive breeding programs and preserving genetic resources.

In 2019, Chinese paddlefish was listed as extinct in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. A recent reassessment published on Thursday verified 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 Red List of Threatened Species in 2019. The recent reassessment relisted the Yangtze sturgeon as extinct in the wild.

The Yangtze sturgeon was endemic to the Yangtze River basin and the Yellow River basin. They are blue-gray, have yellowish white bellies and have large blowholes. This fish species can grow up to 35 pounds and 4.3 feet.

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Since the 1970s, the Yangtze sturgeon have been bred in captivity and released into the Yangtze basin, but unfortunately have not been breeding in the wild.

Acipenseridae are economically significant for their culinary-prized caviar, but the remaining 26 sturgeon species in the world are also at risk of extinction. Because Yangtze sturgeon females could lay up to 102,000 eggs and their meat was considered a delicacy in China, they were caught extensively for human consumption.

Both the Chinese paddlefish and the Yangtze sturgeon’s population declines have been from human impact and environmental degradation such as overfishing and overharvesting, habitat fragmentation, deforestation, mining, water pollution (wastewater and runoff) and dams. The construction of the Gezhouba Dam and the Three Gorges dams blocked the anadromous migration of the Chinese paddlefish, reducing their reproduction for offspring.

Featured Image via New China TV (left) and CBS News (right)