Benefiting from the population of naked carp in Qinghai Lake, the once numerous villages have relied on fishing to make a living. In recent years, however, in the wake of government fishing bans and protections placed on naked carp arising from environmental concerns, nearby residents have gradually changed from catchers of naked carp into their "guardians".
"There was as much fish in the lake as there was water. In those days, the river didn't have a bridge, and those who crossed it on horseback were able to trample a fish just wading across."” This is the Qinghai Lake and the naked carp in Hu Wenquan's childhood memories. One year, the Quanji River flooded; after the deluge had passed, the riverbank was covered with naked carps. Just seven or eight fishes would fill up a basket carrier.
Fifty-seven-year-old Hu Wenquan recalls that in the 1970s and 1980s, he caught a great number of naked carps. To this day, he still feels guilty. "In those days, we relied on fishing to make a living. In doing so, we destroyed a natural resource," he said. The biggest amount Hu Wenquan and his fellow villagers ever harvested was 20 tons of fish, which filled two big trucks and two tractors.
Hu Wenquan said that although at the time one catty of naked carp only brought the seller four cents, fishermen were still able to afford houses, buy wrist watches, and even have enough money to get married, all thanks to fishing.
Sixty-year-old Li Jinhai is a fellow villager of Ba Wenquan. To him, the naked carp hold a special meaning, as in the 1960s, when the three-year natural disaster struck, the naked carp saved their lives. "We boiled them and put some salt on them, and everyone would eat about half a kilo. People in the village died of illness, but no one starved.” He added, “Back then, the lakeside was filled with fishermen's tents, so much so that at night, you couldn’t find your own. People could also trip over the many ropes holding the tents up."
In 2004, naked carps were listed in the "China Species Red List" as an endangered species, prompting the Qinghai Province government to repeatedly issue fishing bans.
Fifty-three=year-old Xinquan Village resident Sun Shengzhu used to catch fish after school. "In winter, we would chisel holes in the ice and use a net to fish; in summer, we would sit on a raft made of tires and cast from there. At that time, the whole thing was a sort of guerilla warfare with the people in the government departments."
With increased efforts by the government to protect the naked carp, Sun Shengzhu began to realize that he must change his way of thinking. In the year 2000, he opened up a restaurant in his hometown. Once he earned enough money, he gathered a cohort of over 20 villagers to do construction projects and established a Tibetan pig farm.
In recent months, villagers have also started to protect naked carps, each year working with the local government to patrol the lake. Last March, a resident from a nearby village had the misfortune to fall through the ice while on a patrol. Xinquan villagers used the same tire rafts to conduct a rescue that had once been used to catch fish. This action earned them a commendation from the government.
"But poaching of the fish still exists in these waters, even though the fishing villages are fading away," said the local forest and chief of the public security bureau fishing management. Since the ban was put into place, the county has investigated 16 instances of poaching, involving Xinquan villagers. At present, fishing naked carp is still a significant source of income for many farmers and nomads in some villages of Gonghe County, Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
In order to protect the Qinghai Lake's ecological environment, and to increase Qinghai's naked carp population, the government of Qinghai Province has issued protection regulations, ordering the halt of fishing in winter.
"The costs of harvesting naked carp are low, and profits are high. People are still benefiting from this, despite the illegality of the situation. It continues, despite the prohibition," said He Xiaolin, chief manager of the Fishery Administration Station of the Qinghai provincial government. The fishery administration department of Qinghai works with the several counties that border the lake and the Ministry of Public Security each year to take actions for conservation of the naked carp in the Qinghai Lake in summer when the fish lay eggs and in winter when the water freezes over.
"Protection of naked carp has already gone on for more than 30 years, with the efforts to halt the illegal harvesting and transporting of the fish increasing over time," He Xiaolin said. From now on, the villagers surrounding the lake and environmental protection organizations will be guided to protect the naked carp as a natural resource more effectively.