Prized bahaba on the brink of extinction due to lack of protection, warns expert

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 July, 2008, 12:00am

Perhaps the most endangered fish in Hong Kong waters is the oddly named Chinese bahaba.

The critically endangered fish, which can grow up to 2 metres in length, only inhabits the waters off China's east coast and is highly valued for its swim bladder, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

'We believe the bahaba is likely to be the first commercial species to become extinct,' WWF marine biologist Andy Cornish said. The scarcity of the fish has led to its swim bladders becoming extremely expensive, fetching up to US$64,000 a kilogram, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

'This species may be close to extinction,' said the union. 'Spawning populations are no longer known ... and there are likely to be few or no refuges remaining for recovery.'

Despite its tenuous grip on continued existence, the species is not protected in Hong Kong. It is, however, protected by law in mainland waters.

That lack of protection was highlighted early this year when a large specimen, about 1.52 metre in length, was captured off Lantau Island.

Local media reported that the fish passed through a number of hands before eventually being sold to a mainland restaurant for HK$1 million.

'That was the first large one we have heard of since the 1980s,' Dr Cornish said.