On October 23, after a nearly six weeks of permitted activity, commercial fishing on Yunnan's largest lake came to a close. The government-sanctioned fishing season is a small but important indicator that after years of struggling to repair rampant ecological damage, efforts to "rehabilitate" Dianchi Lake may finally be bearing fruit.
Both angling and netting were allowed over two periods, the first of which spanned September 13-24, while the second, longer interval stretched from September 29 through October 23. Nearly 1,300 boats were granted fishing licenses issued by the Dianchi Management Bureau (滇池管理局), and the vast majority of the vessels sailed from wharves in Jinning (晋宁) at the southern end of the lake.
Allowing commercial fisherman to return once again to the lake proved to be a short but welcome boon for families who once, only a generation ago, depended on Dianchi to make a living. The average boat owner reportedly earned 10,000 yuan (US$1,475) over the recent six-week fishing period, while top earners netted upwards of 80,000 yuan. On the downside, 78 people had their tackle confiscated and were fined between 1,000 and 2,000 yuan for fishing without licenses.
The combined catch totaled 4,090 tons, with more than three-quarters comprised of different species of carp. Freshwater shrimp and baitfish made up the rest of the haul. Although seemingly large, the amount of fish pulled from the waters of Dianchi was only one-third of what authorities would have allowed.
Over the past several years, short fishing seasons have been allowed in spurts by the Dianchi Management Bureau, as administrators and scientists attempt to ascertain the lake's health. Dianchi has suffered for years from a giant blue-green algae bloom resulting from decades of unregulated wastewater disposal and agricultural runoff. However, the lake is thought to be gradually growing cleaner, healthier and more conducive to life.
The turnaround, slow as it may be, is the product of dozens of government policy changes coupled with enormous outlays of money. The largest such project involves siphoning enormous amounts of water from the Yangtze River annually and pumping it 350 kilometers southeast into Dianchi. While the results of this ambitious endeavor have been encouraging, fish stocks in the lake are rising due to a separate but related strategy.
Since 2013, the Dianchi Management Bureau has released some 3,500 tons of juvenile carp into the lake. In order to gain one kilogram of weight, each fish must reportedly consume 1,000 kilograms of algae, thus contributing mightily to reduced levels of the single-celled scourge. An added benefit of the rapidly growing carp populations is the return of fishing to the lake, although questions as to levels of heavy metals and other toxins in the fish remains unremarked upon in the press.
Nonetheless, officials appear happy with the overall progress, at least enough to suggest next year's fishing season will be longer and more profitable than the one just finished. According to a just-issued report by newspaper Difang, Dianchi lake water is cleaner than it has been at any point since the mid-1990s. Fish stocks are reportedly growing, wetland health is improving and long-absent bird species are returning.
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