School of Fish

One Of The World’s Largest Fish Is Officially Extinct

The Chinese paddlefish, often nicknamed the “water tiger” and “panda of the Yangtze,” is officially extinct. Now formerly known as the world’s largest freshwater fish, the paddlefish used to be a delicacy enjoyed by ancient Chinese emperors, and was surviving on Earth for over 150 million years before its inevitable extinction. 

The paddlefish resembles a swordfish in form, and was known for its extreme size; the largest paddlefish on record was about 23 feet long! Researchers of the Yangtze River in China have concluded that the extinction is likely a result of overfishing and habitat fragmentation, one of the many man-made industries contributing to climate change. 

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According to a study conducted in the “Science of The Total Environment” journal, Chinese paddlefish have been facing a massive population decline since the 1970s. The study found that the fishing industry has always been the paddlefish’s worst enemy, and in 1993 the species was already considered “functionally extinct” by scientists, meaning the species was so rare it couldn’t reproduce. Populations got so scarce that the last live specimen observed by scientists was made in 2003, and scientists concluded the species completely disappeared sometime between 2005 and 2010. 

“Given that the Chinese paddlefish was one of the two extant species of paddlefishes, loss of such unique and charismatic megafauna representative of freshwater ecosystems is a reprehensible and an irreparable loss,” Qiwei Wei, a co-author of the study, told Mongabay, a California-based environmental news site.

Paddlefish are split into two “species categories,” there are Chinese and American paddlefish. American paddlefish are still alive and inhabit several states throughout the US, however, certain areas in the nation have experienced state-wide paddlefish extinctions, such as Michigan and Canada. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature put Chinese paddlefish on the Red List for critical endangerment back in 1990 as a means of protecting the species. This classification, along with a Chinese policy labeling the fish as a “first-class state protected animal,” was meant to help preserve the little population of Chinese paddlefish that were left. However, due to the massive amounts of overfishing within the past decades, the damage had already been done. 

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In addition, back in the 1970’s, when the fish’s population started declining, construction began on the Yangtze River, the paddlefish’s largest habitat. China built what is now known as the Gezhouba Dam in the middle of the river, basically splitting the entire population of Chinese paddlefish in half, along with their pool of potential mates for re-population. 

In response to this devastating extinction, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has launched a 10-year fishing ban on over 300 “conservation areas” now along the Yangtze River. The ban’s main goal is to protect all the rare species that still remain in the Yangtze, and prevent any further extinctions. 

“The paddlefish is one of thousands of animals that will disappear in our lifetime if we don’t recognize the current extinction crisis. We have to care, we have to act, and we have to stop overfishing and habitat destruction or the world will be a much sadder place for our children,” said Sarah Uhlemann, an attorney with the U.S. nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

66% of our planet’s marine ecosystems have been negatively affected by human interference and climate change. As a result, 33% of all marine fish populations have been overfished at an unsustainable level, meaning if the industry continues harvesting marine life as they are, there’s going to be a lot more species joining the Chinese paddlefish in their inevitable fate. 

“Between overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and the multiple impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems, the ocean has never faced such a diverse range of threats. Which is why we’re announcing an Ocean Innovation Challenge to fund projects that restore and protect the oceans” the United Nations said in a press release.