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October 26, 2009

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AI may increase rare sturgeon

CHINESE fisheries scientists remain cautiously optimistic about the fate of the rare Chinese sturgeon, which has been successfully bred using artificial insemination.

"The initial success of the artificial propagation of Chinese sturgeons explores a new way to protect the rare fish and makes it possible to release artificially bred sturgeon fries into the Yangtze River on a large scale," said an assessment report filed by Hubei Provincial Department of Science and Technology on Saturday.

A 50-strong group of experts from academies of science and engineering, fisheries research fellows and professors assessed the impact of the breakthrough.

The first successful artificial insemination and spawning of sturgeon was announced earlier this month by the Chinese Sturgeon Research Institute of the China Three Gorges Corporation and the Institute of Hydro-Ecology of the Ministry of Water Resources.

"If such achievements are real, the technology will be a major breakthrough in China's fisheries industry," said Zhang Youmin, a research fellow with the Hubei Provincial Fisheries Research Institute who participated in the panel.

"My attitude remain cautious." Zhang said. "Because wild Chinese sturgeons are still facing the pressure of extinction under a fast changing habitat due to overfishing amid quick economic expansion."

He said the wild population is still on the decrease and the artificial propagation of the rare species is yet to be confirmed by experiments that can be repeated.

Professor Wei Qiwei, key laboratory director of freshwater biodiversity conservation and utilization under the Ministry of Agriculture, said the process of artificially propagating Chinese sturgeons is very difficult as the rare species could take up to 16 years to mature. "To believe that is true, I need more information like their age identification and detailed files in the past decade," Wei said.

"On conserving the species, I'm a little pessimistic given the example of the baiji dolphins," he added. A team of 25 scientists from China and overseas failed to find any baiji in the Yangtze during a 38-day search in 2006.

An incomplete survey by the Yangtze River Fisheries Research Institute showed that the number of sturgeons migrating back to the river for spawning dwindled from about 2,176 a year in 1981 when the Gezhouba Dam was built to just 500 in 2006. No new statistics were available since then.


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