Takifugu chinensis 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Tetraodontiformes Tetraodontidae

Scientific Name: Takifugu chinensis (Abe, 1949)
Common Name(s):
English Chinese Puffer
Sphoeroides rubripes ssp. chinensis Abe, 1949
Taxonomic Notes: Several genetic experiments have suggested that Takifugu chinensis and T. rubripes are very closely related and can possibly be regarded as the same species (Reza et al. 2011). In China, T. chinensis is considered to be a junior synonym of Takifugu pseudommus. However, differences in the anal fin color of these two species makes it unlikely that they are the same species (Matsuura pers. comm. 2011). Skull structure of the two species is identical, however, and therefore further taxonomic studies are required. The economically important genus Takifugu has been recommended for further taxonomic studies based on morphological and molecular analyses (Yamanoue et al. 2008). We accept the taxonomic validity of T. chinensis.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered A2bd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2011-06-10
Assessor(s): Shao, K., Leis, J.L., Hardy, G., Jing, L., Liu, M. & Pollard, D.
Reviewer(s): Zapfe, G. & Lyczkowski-Shultz, J.
Contributor(s): Stump, E.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Carpenter, K.E., Comeros-Raynal, M., Harwell, H. & Sanciangco, J.
Takifugu chinensis is distributed throughout the coastal waters of China into the waters of southwest Japan. This species is a popular food fish in Japan, and is among the top four Fugu species consumed in Japan. Declines in landing statistics reported from the Sekai National Fisheries Institute in Nagasaki and the National Fisheries University in Shimonoseki City indicate localized population declines of 99.99% over the last 40 years, with steady declines from a peak of 3,600 tonnes in 1969 to about one tonne in 2008. Elsewhere, declines in wild populations in the East China Sea and Yellow Sea have been noted, but remain to be quantified. Takifugu chinensis is threatened by overfishing resulting from fisheries mismanagement, as well as pollution, urban development and possibly the effects of wide-spread aquaculture of the closely-related congener T. rubripes. The escape or intentional release of aquacultured T. rubripes threatens the genetic integrity of this species through possible introgression and hybridization, and large-scale aquaculture operations with high mortality rates may introduce pathogens to wild populations. This species is harvested by bottom long-line fishing, which is very efficient in the capture of this and other Takifugu species. Additionally, cultured individuals listed under the name T. chinensis may be mis-identified and pertain to T. rubripes and T. pseudommus. Taxonomy of cultured species remains to be verified. There are no known species-specific conservation measures in place, however this species may benefit from management directed towards T. rubripes under plans such as the Plan for Rebuilding Puffer Resources, implemented in Japan in 2005, which includes seasonal closures, improvements to fishing grounds, support for some stock assessment programs (for other species of pufferfish), and the mandated release of small fishes. There is no evidence that catches have increased above the 2008 level in recent years. Therefore, we list this species as Critically Endangered under criterion A2bd. We accept current taxonomy that this species is valid (Eschmeyer 2011) and although taxonomic problems persist for this putative species, it is clear that even at the population level there have been severe population declines. Due to the economic importance of the Takifugu genus, and the prevalence of taxonomic uncertainty within this group, we recommend further taxonomic studies utilizing both molecular and morphological methods. Takifugu chinensis also occurs in several marine protected areas throughout its distribution. There is very little information available on the population status, life history characteristics, habitat and ecology of this species. We recommend continued research on this species' life history characteristics and population status.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Takifugu chinensis is found in the Northwest Pacific, from Northern Kyushu, Japan west to the East China and Yellow seas (Nakabo 2002). It is found at depths ranging from 5 to 150 metres.
Countries occurrence:
China; Japan; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Taiwan, Province of China
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Pacific – northwest
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):150
Upper depth limit (metres):5
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Population structure
Molecular analyses of the whole mitochondrial genome of the genus Takifugu revealed that the genetic differences between T. chinensisT. pseudommusT. basilevskiannus, and T. rubripes are not significantly different from the genetic differences between individuals within the species T. chinensis, reinforcing the need for further taxonomic studies of the genus using molecular and morphological techniques (Yamanoue et al. 2008). Additionally, T. chinensis and T. pseudommus were previously proposed to belong to the same species as T. rubripes based on analyses of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA (Song et al. 2001, Reza et al. 2008). Due to their relatively recent divergence times, Takifugu interspecific crosses produced by artificial and natural fertilization in both natural and laboratory settings were found to be viable (Fujita 1967, Masuda et al. 1991, Miyaki et al. 1995, Kai et al. 2005). Each combination of Takifugu species is expected to produce fertile hybrid crosses (Yamanoue et al. 2008).

Population trends
Takifugu chinensis is among the top four highly-commercial Fugu species in Japan. These include: Takifugu rubripesT. chinensisT. porphyreus and T. xanthopterus. Catch records of T. chinensis in on the west coast of Kyushu Island, Japan have shown a sharp drop from 3600 tonnes/year in 1969, to 2300 tonnes/year in 1972, to 1600 tonnes per year in 1975, to 1000 tonnes/year in 1979, to 200 tonnes/year in 1989, and 100 tonnes in 1999 (Yamada et al. 2007). More recent records from the National Fisheries University in Shimonoseki City (the city being famous for its specialized pufferfish-only market), T. chinensis was regularly found in the Fugu fish market in the 1960s at a level of 3000 tonnes, however the figure dropped sharply in the late 1970s through the 1990s. Only one tonne was recorded in 2006 and 2008 (Matsuura pers. comm. 2010). Based on the above landing statistics, it is estimated that the global population of T. chinensis may have declined by over 99.99% over the last 40 years. Over the course of three generation lengths, or 12 years, this species may have declined by as much as 99%. This estimate is based on landing statistics of harvests from the East China Sea and Yellow Sea provided by the Sekai National Fisheries Institute in Nagasaki and the National Fisheries University in Shimonoseki City. It is also worth noting that T. rubripes, one of the most expensive commercial fish species in Japan which is a genetically close relative of T. chinensis has also experienced population declines in the region which have been attributed to fisheries mismanagement and overfishing. Despite increasing fishing effort in the region, the wild catch of T. rubripes fell to less than 500 tonnes in 1994, and has continued to decrease ever since (Reza et al. 2011).

Takifugu chinensis is uncommon in museum collections, it is represented by eight lots (FishNet2 database searched November 2013).

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

Takifugu chinensis inhabits the continental shelf and sandy bottoms, and is usually found at depths of 50 to 100 metres (K. Matsuura pers. comm. 2011). Although it has been recorded in lakes and rivers, neither this species nor T. rubripes are found in these habitats (K. Matsuura pers. comm. 2011). It spawns at depths of 80 metres over sandy, muddy bottoms on the continental shelf (Yamada et al. 2007).The age of first maturity has been estimated at two to three years (Yu 2003, K. Matsuura pers. comm. 2011). Longevity is estimated at nine years (K. Matsuura pers. comm. 2011). Based on this information, generation length has been estimated to be four years. The length of three generations is 12 years. The ovaries and liver contain Tetrodotoxin and are considered extremely toxic. The flesh, skin and testes are innocuous (Nakabo 2002).

The genus Takifugu speciated and radiated in marine waters around China, Korea, and Japan. The highest species density is found in the Bohai Sea, Yellow Sea, and East China Sea, followed by the Sea of Japan and Pacific Coast of Japan, and finally by the South China Sea. Several species have been reported from the Indian Ocean (Yamanoue et al. 2008).

Tetraodontids are characterized by a tough skin that is often covered with small spinulous scales, a beak-like dental plate divided by a median suture, a slit-like gill opening anterior to the base of the pectoral fin, no pelvic fins, no fin spines, a single usually short-based dorsal fin, a single usually short-based anal fin, and no ribs. They are capable of inflating their abdomens with water when frightened or disturbed and are capable of producing and accumulating toxins such as tetrodotoxin and saxitoxin in the skin, gonads, and liver. The degree of toxicity varies by species, and also according to geographic area and season (Allen and Randall 1977, Allen and Erdmann 2012). Fishes in the family Tetraodontidae have the smallest vertebrate genomes known to date (Neafsey and Palumbi 2003).

Generation Length (years):4

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

Takifugu chinensis is a highly-desirable, commercially important species. This species is commonly consumed in Japan (Kikuchi 2006), where it is called "Karasu" and is one of the most popular puffer fish species consumed (Kodama et al. 1984). Takifugu chinensis is cultured in northern China solely for exportation to Japan (Yu 2003). Takifugu chinensis, like other Fugu species, is primarily caught by bottom long-line fishing, a method which is highly effective at landing Takifugu spp. pufferfishes (K. Matsuura pers. comm. 2011).

Fishes of the genus Takifugu have become the focus of increasing aquaculture efforts throughout East Asia. Aquacultured Takifugu are used to meet increasing demand for pufferfish products and to enhance natural populations which have been depleted throughout the region (Kawata et al. 2012). Takifugu pufferfishes, principally represented by the tiger puffer, T. rubripes, are raised in floating net pens in Japan, Korea, and China (Belle and Nash 2009). The total wild catch of pufferfish species in Japan has been relatively stable, ranging from 7800 to 11000 tonnes from 1995 to 2002. The four most common species consumed in Japan are T. rubripes, T. snyderi, T. chinensis, and T. porphyreus. Aquaculture efforts focus on T. rubripes, which ranks 5th among marine aquacultured species (the top aquacultured species in Japan are: Yellowtail (Seriola quinqueradiata), Red Sea Bream (Pagrus major), coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) and Japanese flounder (Paralichthys olivaceus). Although highly valuable (the market price of T. rubripes is 1.5 times that of Japanese flounder, three times that of yellowtail or seabream), the value began to decrease rapidly from the late 1990s onwards due to importation of Tiger puffer from China. In Japan, the majority of fingerlings produced in commercial hatcheries are then raised in floating net cages for direct consumption. About 15 million fingerlings are produced by commercial hatcheries for aquaculture, 1.5 times higher than the amount produced for release for stock enhancement by semi-governmental hatcheries in 1999. One of the most serious problems in the net cage aquaculture of tiger puffer is high mortality—survival is estimated to be less than 50%—from outbreaks of parasitic diseases (Ogawa and Inouye 1997).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

The global population of T. chinensis is estimated to have declined by over 99.99% over the last 40 years. This estimate is based on landing statistics from the East China Sea and Yellow Sea provided by the Sekai National Fisheries Institute in Nagasaki and the National Fisheries University in Shimonoseki City. 

Fugu fishery
The Fugu fishery is acknowledged to have undergone significant declines throughout East Asia. Highly effective fishing gear, including modified long-lines and nets with small mesh sizes, rather than excessive fishing effort, have been implicated in the depletion of Takifugu pufferfish resources in parts of East Asia. In Japan, initial efforts to regulate the fishery in the mid-2000s had not achieved desired results by 2010, and were subsequently re-evaluated (Kawata 2012). Although the species-specific effects of the Fugu fishery on T. chinensis are not well understood, over-exploitation was the principal cause of population decline in several congeners, including the closely related T. rubripes.

Genetic effects of cultured fish on natural populations
Fishes of the genus Takifugu have become the focus of increasing aquaculture efforts throughout East Asia. Aquacultured Takifugu are used to meet increasing demand for pufferfish products and to enhance natural populations which have been depleted throughout the region (Kawata et al. 2012). As culture fish are genetically distinct from natural populations, the release of aqua-cultured fish can result in a range of genetic outcomes, from no detectable effect to complete introgression or displacement of wild populations (Hindar et al. 1991). Fishes of the genus Takifugu are relatively recently diverged, and each combination of Takifugu species is expected to produce fertile hybrid crosses (Yamanoue et al. 2008). It is therefore likely that the effect of intentional and unintentional release of cultured Takifugu on the genetic integrity of wild populations is significant.

Regional threats: environmental degradation and over-fishing
Major threats to biodiversity of the China seas include over-exploitation of fishery resources and environmental deterioration. The China Seas have faced severe environmental degradation due to a range of anthropogenic activities within a relatively recent and short time frame (Daoji and Daler 2004). The degradation of estuarine environments due to pollution and coastal production is of particular concern, as these areas are characterized by high productivity and represent spawning and nursery areas for many species (Liu 2013). Large areas of the China Seas (Liu 2013) and the Gulf of Thailand (Blaber 2000) are considered to be heavily overfished. Additionally, heavy bottom-trawling in the 1980s and the widespread use of modified driftnets for multi-species fisheries in the Bohai Sea, combined with other anthropogenic stresses, have been implicated in the steady decrease in fish landings in this area (Xianshi 2004). In the Yellow Sea, previously dominant large demersal species became the targets of heavy fishing pressure during the 1950s and 1960s and greatly declined in abundance. By the 1980s, many large pelagic species were also showing great declines in abundance, and since that time the dominant species in the Yellow Sea have been small, planktivorous pelagic species, such as anchovies and sardines (Jin and Tang 1996). In the Yellow Sea all ecological indexes such as the species number, species richness, species diversity and the evenness were lower in the year 2000 than in the year 1985 (Lin et al. 2005).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: There are no known species-specific conservation measures in place for Takifugu chinensis, however it is possible that management efforts aimed at sustaining T. rubripes fisheries have benefited T. chinensis.

Fugu fishery
The Fugu fishery is acknowledged to have undergone significant declines. Japan, South Korea and China previously operated their fisheries under a policy which prevented the regulation of foreign fishing vessels and treated the open sea in East Asia as common property. Since 1999, with the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and new fishery agreements between these nations, this policy has shifted to enable coastal countries to regulate foreign fishing vessels. As a result of this policy shift, Japan announced the Plan for Rebuilding Puffer Resources in April 2005, which set dates for an off-fishing season, restrictions on minimum body size, support for stock-enhancement programs, improvements to fishing grounds, and mandated the release of small fishes. As of 2010, stocks had not fully improved, prompting a re-assessment of the program. Several recommendations have been made in order to ensure its continued existence, particularly in light of socio-economic constraints which limit the possibility of developing alternative fisheries. Recommendations include gear restrictions and mandating that fishers catch older and heavier fish by postponing the beginning of the fishing season (Kamara 2012).

In order to sustain fisheries of the East China Sea, the government of China has implemented a number of management and conservation measures. These include establishing a prohibited-fishing zone along the 50-m depth contour, the establishment of seventeen national nature reserves and five special marine protected areas, the creation of fishery protected areas which are annually closed to trawling, and a summer closed-fishing  areas, which prohibit trawling and have been extended to the South China sea, Yellow Sea, and Bohai Sea (Cheng et al. 2007).

Further research
The economically important genus Takifugu has been recommended for further taxonomic studies based on morphological and molecular analyses (Yamanoue et al. 2008), and we support this recommendation.

Citation: Shao, K., Leis, J.L., Hardy, G., Jing, L., Liu, M. & Pollard, D. 2014. Takifugu chinensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T193605A2246312. . Downloaded on 19 August 2018.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided