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March 8, 2012

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Big trouble in search for tiny eel

SEVERAL fishermen gazed intently as a long net was hauled up from the sea north of Hengsha Island.

Tang Yubing sighed, kicking aside a bucket. "Nothing again." The fisherman rubbed his right shoulder that had been injured in a recent dispute with another fishing crew.

A fierce rivalry is taking place on the island at the mouth of the Yangtze River, about 50 kilometers from downtown Shanghai, with fishermen fighting, even shedding blood, for a tiny creature smaller than a toothpick called an elver.

City frontier police said the disputes and assault cases among fishermen have jumped as the price for young eels has soared amid a severe shortage.

A small elver, weighing about 0.1 gram, can be sold for 38 yuan (US$6), compared to less than 10 yuan last year. In comparison, a gram of gold currently makes 350 yuan on the market.

"Everyone intends to claim the best fishing ground," said the police.

The eel, which are very difficult to breed, has always been a major fishing target but the situation has never been as bad as this year, said fishermen.

"There are just two or three for every 100 nets," said Tang.

Overfishing and pollution are viewed as the main reasons for the shortage, fishing authorities said. The relatively cold weather and the lack of warm currents also play a part.

Police said they investigated nine disputes between fishermen from late November last year until last month - triple the number last year. Knives and other weapons were used.

"I have not made a single penny so far," said one fisherman, surnamed Ma, from Jiangsu Province. Ma borrowed 200,000 yuan to buy boats and fishing equipment. "Losing money this year is the one certainty," said Ma.


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