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Compensation asked for illegal fishing in Yangtze

Six men who had already received suspended prison sentences for illegal fishing of rare species appeared in a Shanghai court on Tuesday - World Oceans Day - to face public interest civil litigation for their wrongdoing.

It was the first civil litigation case regarding public interest in the field of environmental protection heard by the Shanghai Maritime Court since China's Yangtze River Protection Law came into force in March.

Prosecutors from the No 3 Branch of the Shanghai People's Procuratorate asked the court to order monetary compensation for environmental damage totaling 810,000 yuan ($126,700) and demanded the men make public apologies.

The prosecutors said that between May 4 and May 10 last year, two of the defendants, surnamed Jiang and Zhou, organized three others to drive a boat in key areas of the Yangtze River and near Shanghai's Chongming Island and put down several deepwater nets.

The three caught as much as 1.4 metric tons of rare fish species - daoyu and fengweiyu - from the areas, where fishing is banned. Jiang and Zhou then sold the fish. They hired another man to transport the fish to a food market and he also helped sell them.

After receiving reports from the public, police caught the three men on May 10 in the act of catching fish. In December, the six men were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one year and three months to two years by a Shanghai court after being found guilty of illegal fishing and then put on probation.

Daoyu, also known as knife fish by locals, is a seasonal delicacy in China but its population has been severely threatened by overfishing. At the beginning of 2019, the country imposed a complete fishing ban in key areas along the Yangtze River.

"The six lawbreakers used forbidden fishing equipment to fish for profit within the aquatic resource conservation areas despite knowing that the main stream and important tributaries of the Yangtze River were subject to a year-round fishing ban," the prosecutors said during Tuesday's hearing.

Zhang Yinjiang, a professor from the College of Marine Ecology and Environment at Shanghai Ocean University, said: "Changes in one or two species of fish may pass to others along the food chain and affect the productivity of phytoplankton. This may eventually lead to the collapse of the entire river ecosystem."

The six defendants said in their final statements that they sincerely apologized for their mistakes and were willing to accept legal sanctions. The court said it will announce its judgment later.