The “monster” breakers faced a challenge: They first had to locate the fish in Yunchan Lake, a 30-acre artificial body of water filled with aquatic plants near the bottom. After two weeks of unsuccessful searches, the local government announced it would drain the entire lake.
As Tuesday neared the end of Prohibition, media and Chinese TikTok influencers flocked to the site to get a glimpse of the fish. A live stream from the state-run tabloid Chutian Metropolis Daily drew more than 37 million viewers as the hunting team set up searchlights and combed the remaining puddles with fishing nets.
“I start [a] fire to cook it,” said one commenter on the live stream. Others brainstormed ideas for the search team, with one person proposing to use Go-Pro equipped remote control cars and others proposing to lure it out with a laser pointer.
By the time the search team called it a day late Tuesday, still no fish to be seen.
The livestream marathon continued Wednesday and Thursday, with gar-related hashtags trending on Weibo’s microblogging service. Government officials told local media that the gar may be hidden in an approximately 200-meter U-shaped pipeline leading to the lake.
Alligator gars, native to America, were introduced to China as companion fish. They were prized for their quirky looks, but many were later abandoned or released into the wild after they grew too large. Despite Chinese scientists lobbying to add the gar to an inventory of invasive species, it remains readily available in pet stores and e-commerce sites for just a few dollars.
The fish poses a threat to local ecosystems because of its voracious appetite, experts say. It also has few natural enemies.
In the United States, where the crocodile population appears to be declining, the transportation and trade of the fish is regulated by federal law. Washington state law allows the unauthorized release of alligator yarn into state waters to be charged as a felony.
“When a gar is let loose here in a river, lake or fish farm, it will start to devour everything, which can pose a major threat to local ecosystems,” said Gu Dang’en, an aquatic ecosystems expert at the Pearl River Fisheries Research Institute, who is responsible for this. invasive fish species.
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The gar can grow up to 10 feet and prefer slow waters like the man-made lake in Ruzhou, he said. The fish can attack humans if it feels threatened, although such incidents are “extremely rare,” Gu added.
According to a television channel in Jiangsu province, a 27-inch, 22-pound shrimp was caught in an eastern Chinese city last week after a boy was bitten.
Members of the search team said Thursday afternoon that they would enter the large water main to hunt the shrimp. But some online commentators started speculating whether it was worth pumping the lake for one fish.
“With all this fanfare, you’d think this was about catching the Loch Ness monster,” one user said on Weibo.
Gu said local officials meant well, but may have overreacted.
“Obviously it’s not worth it economically. Will we each pump more if we see shrimp there?” he said.