AMUR-HEILONG RIVER BASIN

 

All chapters:

Introduction

Climate

Waters and water management

Ecosystems and ecoregions

Species diversity and use of biological resources

Nature conservation: econet and protected areas

Countries & cultures

Economy

Land use

International policy

Species diversity and use of biological resources
History and Reasons for the Collapse of the Amur fisheries
Related maps, pictures, links

Over harvest of fish resources is an acute issue throughout the Amur-Heilong River basin.  Decline in fish resources was observed in the late 19th century and was attributed to uncontrolled international fishing in the Lower Amur and along the sea coast, leading to declines in numbers of sturgeon, salmon and other species.

In the late 1940s, the rapid decrease of freshwater fish harvest in the Amur-Heilong River was caused by increased fishing during WWII.  These circumstances led the Soviet government to send an ichthyological expedition to Amur.  This expedition remains the most consistent and comprehensive analysis of fish and fisheries in the basin.  The main recommendations for fish stock restoration such as banning most barbaric harvest methods used by fishing collectives, designing less destructive fishing gear, artificial propagation of some valuable species, etc. were only partly implemented by authorities.  Figure on total catch in Russia shows the steady decline in fish harvest, leading to collapse of most state-owned fishing enterprises.

With increasing industrialization of the Amur-Heilong River basin, particularly in China, a new threat has emerged: chemical contamination of river waters by the discharge of untreated industrial waste and runoff of agrichemicals from farmlands. Water in the Amur-Heilong River downstream of the Songhua River confluence are so severely polluted that river communities in Russia are advised against using river water for drinking or preparing food and people should avoid eating fish or other wildlife taken from the river.
Presently only the Lower Amur and the Middle Amur-Heilong, below Hinggan Gorge, retain commercial fisheries on the Russian side.  Due to very different traditions of fishing and regulation, China retains a system of commercial fisheries with fishing plots leased to professional fishermen further upstream in the Amur-Heilong.  Subsistence fishing by the local Chinese population includes a variety of gear types: fine mesh nets that capture three to five centimeter fish fry, as well as occasional use of explosives and poisons.  Subsistence fishing among the Russian population has been constrained since the 1960s by a strict border protection regime.  This unequal access to river resources is seen as a major injustice by locals and leads to laying the blame exclusively on the Chinese, despite the fact that the real mechanisms behind the decline in fish are much more complex.  Indeed, the root cause of currently depressed fish stocks is the lack of an adequate international fishing regime throughout the transboundary basin.  Existing international fishing rules are partly out of date and are poorly enforced by both sides.  They do not relate to the Lower Amur which includes important fish reproduction habitats and migration routes for salmon and sturgeon.  While China presumably is responsible for overfishing in the Middle Amur-Heilong, Russia has an extremely poor enforcement system in the Lower Amur where severe overfishing of salmon and sturgeon occurs.  This combination of ineffective management precludes restoration of fish stocks throughout the basin.

One of the most noticeable impacts of poor fisheries management in recent years is the decrease in the spawning range of salmon, which, only 30 years ago, extended upstream to the Upper Amur-Heilong; now the range only reaches to the middle of Hinggan Gorge.

Several fish species are listed in Russia’s Red Data Book (endangered species).  Measures to protect them are poorly defined.  For example, Chinese perch or “auha” is listed as a species at the northernmost reach of its geographic range.  However, it is a staple food throughout China and a species of choice for fish farming.  Natural population numbers fluctuate widely from year to year and in abundant years this fish may account for up to one quarter of the daily catch in the Middle Amur-Heilong.

 

For a comprehensive review of fishing see the recent WWF-RFE publication: “Amur Fish – Wealth and Crisis” in pdf format.

Map collections:

Species richness

Distribution of charismatic species

 

Maps:

Fauna types

Kaluga sturgeon

Upper Ussury –Lake Khanka

 

Photo:

 

Chum salmon cut for caviar and left to rot on Lower Amur tributary. Photo by WWF.

Also look:

Species richness in Amur-Heilong River Basin

Kaluga sturgeon

Salmonid diversity

Chinese soft-shelled turtle

Fisheries:

Russian fisheries

China fisheries

Sino-Mongolian fisheries on Lake Buir

Total catch in Russia (table)

Amur-Ussury Fishing rules

Fish vs Pollution

Salmon vs forestry

 

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