Rare fish flourish in country's largest lake

Updated: Jul 3, 2024 China Daily Print
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XINING — Tens of thousands of naked carp, an endemic species in Qinghai Lake, the largest lake in China, swim upstream to spawn, creating a spectacular scene as they pack the Quanji River.

Known as huangyu in China, the scaleless carp are now traveling up the river in Gangca county, in the Haibei Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Northwest China's Qinghai province.

Decades ago, the population of naked carp had declined sharply due to overfishing and environmental deterioration. In 2002, Qinghai Lake only contained about 2,592 metric tons of naked carp.

Thanks to two decades of protection efforts, reserves of the species in the lake have now been restored to 120,000 tons.

In the past, many county residents made a living by fishing. Xinquan village, with 251 households, was an example.

"In the 1980s and 1990s, due to poor living conditions and low crop yields, more than 90 percent of villagers in Xinquan relied on fishing for their livelihood," said Sheng Shengmei, the village's deputy Party secretary.

Dai Huansheng, 56, used to be a fisherman in Xinquan. After finishing junior school in the mid-1980s, Dai started to use makeshift rafts made from car tires to fish in Qinghai Lake along with fellow villagers.

"A net measuring 40 meters long and 1 meter wide could yield more than 300 kilograms of fish in summer," Dai said. During winter, they drilled holes in the frozen lake to set nets under the ice.

Naked carp gradually became a vital food source for villagers, who also bartered dried fish for vegetables, fruits and other necessities or sold them for supplemental income during times of financial hardship.

However, uncontrolled fishing led to a drastic decline in the naked carp population in Qinghai Lake, posing a severe threat not only to the core species, but also to the lake's ecosystem.

Without the naked carp, Qinghai Lake would eventually become a "dead lake", according to experts.

In 2021, the local government implemented its sixth ban on naked carp fishing in Qinghai Lake and rivers upstream to boost stocks of the rare species and better protect the ecosystem of the plateau lake. The ban will last till the end of 2030.

Today, many tourists flock to Gangca county to watch the migration of the naked carp.

"Many local residents now rely on transportation, husbandry, farming and tourism for their income, resulting in a transformation of the local industry," Sheng said.

Former fisherman Guo Yongzhong, 55, now sells fish feed and local specialties to tourists near the Quanji River together with his wife.

Local people's perception of the fish species has changed over the years.

When the river flow has stopped, stranding the fish, Xinquan villagers have volunteered to transport them back to the lake in wooden containers.


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