Cleaner water poses a problem
As Shanghai’s waterways become cleaner thanks to the city’s effort in tackling pollution, the number of fish in Suzhou Creek and its branches is recovering.
But with more fish in the rivers, fishing has become a popular leisure-time activity. Many people gather alongside the creek with fishing poles, often spending the whole afternoon there. Some people in suburban areas go further and cast nets into the creek to sell whatever they pull up.
As part of the river chiefs scheme, a national campaign to improve water quality by appointing district and subdistrict directors as chiefs of waterways under their jurisdiction, the Shanghai Water Authority launched inspections along the creek this year to stop people from fishing.
Of those who fish, few are aware it is against the regulations to fish in the creek or other waterways in the city.
However, there is no specific law to follow when the authority catches these rogue fishermen, and many get away unpunished.
When a Shanghai Daily reporter visited Suzhou Creek beside the Henan Road Bridge in Huangpu District around 2pm on Tuesday, there were seven people with three fishing poles leaning on the levee wall.
“We are just preparing the tools,” one of the fishermen who identified himself as Feng said. “Come back at 6pm if you want fish.”
Feng said he goes fishing almost every day. “I do it for fun,” he said. “Sometimes people ask me if I sell them and I think why not.”
The fishermen said they usually came after 2pm and stayed until sunset. If they got lucky, they could catch fish weighing over 10 kilograms.
A parking lot attendant nearby said officers from the local urban management and law enforcement bureau were at the spot several days ago.
“The officers came to ask these people to go away several times, but they always came back after the officers were gone,” the attendant said.
Hua Xueyong of the Shanghai Water Authority said that all enforcement officers could do was to ask people to take their equipment and leave.
“There is no law we can follow to fine or punish them,” said Hua.
Hua said the water environment in the creek was still fragile at the moment, and fishing would definitely damage its eco-system.
The bait the fishermen used contained grease which also pollutes the water.
“Not to mention these people are stepping on the greenbelt and throwing litter carelessly into the river,” Hua said.
Further west from Henan Road Bridge at least 30 people were fishing. Most were like Feng and were simply fishing for fun or to kill time. They either gave away or sold their fish.
“I give the fish I got to neighbors and friends,” said Huang Jianjun, a retired electrician. “I don’t think it’s a big deal for us to fish here, there are plenty of them in the river.”
However, experts warn that eating the fish from the creek can be a terrible choice. Fan Shoulin, former secretary of the Shanghai Fisheries Trade Association, said that even though the water in the creek is cleaner now, there are still potential risks from eating the fish.
“The fishery trade needs a certificate from the authorities to make sure the fish people are eating are clean enough,” said Fan. “You can’t give others random fish you pulled up from the creek, what if the fish swim to the clean area from polluted waters?”
The situation is worse in suburban areas.
Near Qianqiu Bridge in Jiading District, local law enforcement officers found nine fishing nets set alongside Wusong River, the upper stream of the Suzhou Creek, on April 11.
These shore-operated nets can cover an area of 50 square meters under the water.
Also commonly cast into the creek are ground cages, a net cage that often stretches out for 10 meters. With its small mesh, even baby fish can’t escape.
Last month, the district fined two people setting ground cages near Qianqiu Bridge 1,600 yuan (US$236.7).
Ground cages are forbidden by law but the size of the nets is often too small for the officers to fine them according to the law. Officers said they often found it difficult to find the people casting the nets at the scene during inspections. Some people just left the nets there.
According to the water authority, there had been more than 36,000 nets cast at 7,301 spots on Suzhou Creek by April 12. Only 2,210 spots had been cleared out.