Huge, Critically Endangered Chinese Bahaba given as Father’s Day Present

A man has spared no expense on a ¥3million (£285,500) fish for his father-in-law.

The 50kg Chinese Bahaba (Bahaba taipingensis, Giant Croaker or黃唇魚 or 黄唇鱼) is 1.6m long and was caught as part of a local Dragon Boat Festival tradition in Fujian Province.

‘We’ve never seen such a big Bahaba in many years,’ said locals.

The fish is found on the coast of China, from the Yangtze River estuary southwards to the Pearl River estuary, including the waters of Hong Kong and Macau. It is a marine species that reaches lengths up to 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) and weights in excess of 100 kilograms (220 lb). Its natural habitats are shallow seas, subtidal aquatic beds, rocky shores, and estuarine waters. It enters estuaries to spawn and may be present there seasonally in large numbers. These include the Yangtze River, the Min River and the Pearl River and around the coast of Zhoushan Island (off the coast of Ningbo). It feeds mostly on shrimps and crabs.

It spawns in April and after spawning, the adults move out to deeper waters. Juveniles may be found in estuarine and coastal areas.

It is threatened by massive over fishing that continues despite legal protection in mainland China. Annual catches of fifty tonnes were taken in the 1930s but this had dwindled to 10 tonnes per year by the 1950s and 1960s by which time few large fish were caught. Despite legal protection in the mainland China, it is has no legal protection in Hong Kong, but it has been listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  It is still caught and landed in mainland China, because of the immense monetary value placed on the swim bladders of this fish for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The swimbladders (maw) price depends on its age and shape, sex and size of fish, and even on the place and season of capture. In some markets, notably the Chinese markets, a good specimen swim bladder fetches more than its weight in gold.

Help urge more protection for this species by signing this petition online: “It is high time to protect the Chinese Bahaba”

Spawning populations are no longer known (fishing was targeted on spawning aggregations in estuaries in the past) and, given the heavy fishing pressure in the region, there are likely to be few or no refuges remaining for recovery. In addition, the estuaries in which this species spawns are degraded which may also have affected populations. It is not clear whether spawning aggregations of the species still occur, although some evidence suggests they might close to Xiqiyang, Dongguan, Pearl River. Dongguan by the way is one of Southern China’s biggest manufacturing cities.  Bahabas are vulnerable because of their biological characteristics of large size, restricted geographic range and aggregating behaviour in and around estuaries. When aggregating in estuaries they often produce sounds that makes individuals particularly easy to find.

By the 1990s, only small fish (<30 kg) were taken in Hong Kong waters sporadically, and large individuals (>50 kg) had become rare. Greatest catches were taken in the weeks prior to full and new moons with up to 300 fish taken in a season in Hong Kong in the past; now only the occasional small fish is taken. The last large Bahaba seen in Hong Kong was caught in 2008…

Source of the Father’s Day news item : Metro, 9/6/2014

Further Reading:
2001 article on the biology of the Chinese Bahaba from the “Porcupine” Newsletter of HKU’s Department of Ecology & Biodiversity

2010 blog post from Alex Hofford Photography on Bahaba products for sale in Sheung Wan

2012 Business Insider article of recent Bahaba catches and market prices

Hong Kong Federation of Women webpage detailing how expectant and new mothers can obtain fictitious health benefits by contributing directly to the extinction of the Chinese Bahaba
(FYI only, please don’t buy any Bahaba or Bahaba products!)

SCMP news item from 2008

Petition to for more protection of the Bahaba

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