Shao Guoqing hauled his boat and fishing equipment onshore as the Yangtze, dubbed China's Mother River, entered its three-month fishing moratorium on Tuesday. The annual moratorium, which began in 2002, is hoped to restore fish resources in the Yangtze, whose aquatic ecosystem is on the verge of collapse. The ban also applies to the river's tributaries. "My wife and I will seek jobs elsewhere during the three months," said the 42-year-old fisherman of Wuhan City in central China's Hubei Province. "We might come back at the end of June, or move on. Fishing in the Yangtze has become increasingly difficult, with fewer and smaller fish." LOST PARADISE The ban not only affects Shao's family but some 150,000 people who work in the fishing business along the Yangtze. Though the ban means less income, families are generally supportive of it. What was once a river of abundance is now a barren one because of years of over-exploitation, pollution and busy waterway traffic. "When I was a child, I remember half a day of fishing was enough to fill the whole boat," said Shao. "These days you spend a couple of days on the river and get nothing. A fish weighing over a kilo is a rarity." There are only about 1,040 finless porpoises in the Yangtze and two lakes linked to the waterway, according to a survey in 2012 by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Scientists warned that finless porpoises, a barometer of the river's ecological conditions, may die out within 10 to 15 years, if tough measures are not taken. In 2006, a survey found no white-flag dolphins in the Yangtze, suggesting they were "functionally extinct", which means the population is too small for the species to reproduce. LOSING BATTLE The three-month-long fishing ban can give fish some breathing space, but it cannot reverse a declining trend. "What follows the ban every year is fishing activity with a vengeance," said Wang Ding, a researcher at the Institute of Hydrobiology under the CAS. A fish can grow to weigh 1.5 kilograms into November, but fishermen cannot wait and catch them in July when they weigh only 50 to 100 grams, said Cao Wenxuan, a CAS academician. "Even boats without fishing permits sneak out in the dark to fish, a situation difficult to manage as we are understaffed," said Zeng Jiqing, head of the fishing administration in Xinzhou District of Wuhan. Cao proposed a 10-year fishing ban. Three to four reproductive cycles could happen during the 10-year period. It would significantly boost fish numbers and improve the ecosystem, he said. The ban would not affect consumption as less than 100,000 tonnes of fish are caught in the Yangtze each year. This number is minimal compared to some 25 million tonnes of annual freshwater fish caught across the country, according to Wang. Despite his lobbying, Cao's proposal has gained little traction. DILEMMA To restore the Mother River to its former glory, much has to be done, with the balance of economic growth and environmental preservation being key. "The two appear to be in perpetual conflict," said Wang Ding. The government plans to make China's longest river a "golden waterway" that bolsters growth of the Yangtze River Economic Belt. However, an economic push could aggravate the ecosystem of Yangtze. When more boats enter the river the waterway will become busier. Fish will have less room. To make matters worse, the Yangtze is likely to become more polluted as more houses and factories get built along the banks when the economy picks up. "In the end it all boils to the simple question: what do we want, a Yangtze full of life or a 'golden' yet lifeless river?" Wang asked.