Fishermen on Yangtze embrace new life as Xi urges conservation

A finless porpoise is seen in the Yangtze River in Yichang, central China's Hubei Province, Aug. 3, 2020. (Photo by Lei Yong/Xinhua)

  A finless porpoise is seen in the Yangtze River in Yichang, central China's Hubei Province, Aug. 3, 2020. (Photo by Lei Yong/Xinhua)

CHONGQING/CHANGSHA, Jan. 5 (Xinhua) — Located along the Yangtze River, ex-fisherman Song Bin’s fish restaurant touts the finest view of the Liziba station, a landmark of southwest China metropolis Chongqing where sky trains running through a residential building are an everyday feature.

Song, 47, used to serve his guests with delicious dishes aboard his own ship on the Yangtze River. Back then, Chongqing, a major city in the upper reaches of the Yangtze, beckoned droves of tourists by its quintessential combination of the majestic river view and fine dining. Behind the marvelous dining pleasure were leftovers stealthily dumped into the waterway by some ships despite a government ban.

On Jan. 1 this year, a 10-year fishing ban took effect in pivotal waters of the Yangtze, after 332 conservation areas along the river enforced the fishing ban a year ago, to help the river recover from dwindling aquatic resources and degrading biodiversity.

President Xi Jinping has attached great importance to the ecological protection of the 6,300-km-long Yangtze, China’s longest and the world’s third-longest river, as well as the high-quality development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt which covers nine provinces and two municipalities and accounts for more than 40 percent of the country’s population and economic aggregate.

The status and role of the river and the economic belt mean the development along the river must prioritize ecology and “green development” to respect natural, economic and social rules, said Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, as he presided over a meeting on advancing the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt in Chongqing on Jan. 5, 2016.

The Yangtze River boasts a unique ecological system. Restoring its ecological environment will be an overwhelming task and no large-scale development will be allowed along the river at present and for a rather long period to come, he said at the meeting.

In recent years, provinces and municipalities along the river have stepped up conservation efforts for controlling pollution and pursuing green, high-quality growth.

Over the past five years, a large number of highly polluting and energy-intensive enterprises have been shut down, and more than 8,000 chemical enterprises along the Yangtze have been closed, transformed, or relocated, said Luo Guosan, an official with the National Development and Reform Commission on Tuesday.

Song is one of about 230,000 fishermen who relied on the river for their livelihoods but have now embraced new lives after moving ashore.

He opened a restaurant and rented a farm for fish breeding to produce ingredients for his restaurant, using the government’s compensation for the fishing ban. A total of 415 fishermen in Chongqing’s Jiangbei District bade farewell to their boats and have found new jobs.

“We support the ban and hope that it will allow the Yangtze River to rest and recuperate,” he said.

Efforts should be made to strengthen the protection and restoration of ecological and environmental systems and coordinated work on the upper, middle, and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Xi said at a symposium on comprehensively advancing the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt held November last year in east China’s Nanjing city, in the lower reaches of the river.

The restoration of the ecological environment of the Yangtze River should be a major priority, Xi said, adding that the establishment of a mechanism should be accelerated whereby protection and restoration of the ecological environment shall be reasonably rewarded, while those responsible for the destruction of the ecological environment shall pay their due price.

Hunan Province in the river’s middle reaches has closed and dismantled all 39 illegal wharves along the Yangtze River mainstream while restoring the ecological environment there. The province has also planted trees covering more than 1,300 hectares along the river.

Hu Cunku, an ex-fisherman near Dongting Lake in the Yangtze basin in Hunan, has joined 500 other former fishermen and become a “fish protector,” earning a monthly income of 3,000 yuan (463 U.S. dollars) from the employment opportunity offered by local authorities in Yueyang City.

“Fishing used to be our livelihood and now protecting fishery is for future generations,” said Hu, who patrols the lake every day.

As of mid-October, all registered 28,148 fishermen in Hunan had stopped fishing and over 97 percent of those willing to work had found alternative means of livelihood.

The ex-fisherman Song, who continues to reside by the riverside in Chongqing, is surprised to spot rare visitors like black-headed gulls and wild ducks.

“The water is even clearer than it used to be about 20 years ago when I started fishing,” he said. Enditem

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