Working with partners in and around Nanji Wetland National Nature Reserve (Nanji Wetland NNR), which is located in Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, to conserve the Yangtze Finless Porpoise, migratory birds and its habitats by mitigating threats from local fishermen community, WWF kicked off the Nanji Wetland Programme.
Nanji Wetland National Nature Reserve (Nanji Wetland NNR), which lies in the southern portion of Poyang Lake, is 33,300 hectares. Each year, an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 tourists flock to this area for bird-watching and hoping to catch a glimpse of a YFP. At least 15 percent of the porpoises (70 individuals) in Poyang Lake.
As with other reserves in China, the Nanji Wetland NNR is administratively divided into three zones: core zone, buffer zone, and experimental zone. The core zone is approximately 2,000 hectares and is used year-around by at least 4% (20 individuals) of all the porpoises in Poyang Lake. Officially designated as an area of ‘no human activity’, here, human access is controlled and kept to a minimum.
Moving from the core zone is the buffer zone. The buffer zone slightly relaxes restrictions, allowing for limited human activities such as scientific studies. Despite this official designation, however, illegal fishing persists. This buffer zone contains two lakes - Zhanbei Lake, which is approximately 300 hectares (741,316 acres) and Baisha Lake, which is approximately 567 hectares (1,401,0900 acres). In the wet season, these lakes become absorbed by Poyang Lake.
During the dry season, when Poyang Lake shrinks, these two lakes become isolated and, as with Poyang Lake, become critical habitat for migratory water birds and the YFP.
Though vital to the survival of the species, Poyang Lake is polluted, mined for sand, and used as a navigation channel – all of which are negatively impacting the porpoise population numbers. The leading cause of porpoise death over the past five years, however, according to necropsies (animal autopsies) is over- and illegal fishing practices, which employ dangerous methods such as electrofishing and fishing traps. The use of these techniques has also contributed to the devastation of fish populations. The proposed solution to help the fish and porpoise recover is a year-round moratorium on fishing in both the mainstream of the Yangtze River and Poyang and Donging Lakes. China’s Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is implementing such a policy. By cracking down on illegal fishing, the hope is that the fishing ban will allow the populations of aquatic species recover.
With the fishing ban in place and fish supplies nearly gone, fishermen are being forced to look for alternative sources income. With few skills and even fewer prospects for jobs, the fisherman will either be forced to retire and collect a pension (if they are over age 60) or be retrained for other work (if they are between 30-60 years old). It isin this challenge that WWF sees an opportunity. Though, no longer a legally permissible activity, fishing is still happening. WWF recognizes the challenges community members face in transitioning from a traditional activity to another type of work, especially for the 100 or so subsistence fishermen who live in the area. Though a few of these community members have started agritourism businesses, more permanents solutions for livelihoods, other than fishing, needs to be found.
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