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June 20, 2004

Chinese Bahaba

When in China up the Yangtze, I bought a fish for dinner that looked almost exactly like a spotted seatrout (speckled trout) from the Texas coast...

Q: When in China up the Yangtze, I bought a fish for dinner that looked almost exactly like a spotted seatrout (speckled trout) from the Texas coast. It was around 6 pounds and had the classic yellow mouth, fangs and spots. Any idea what it was or if it is related to the spotted seatrout? -- Abram Nicholson, Midway, Georgia

A: Speckled trout, like all drums and croakers, belong to the family Sciaenidae.  In the western Pacific most sciaenids are in the genera Argyrosomus, Protonibea, Pennahia and Johnius. They can range far up rivers into very brackish water. Several different species inhabit these waters; however, the fish you saw in the Yangtze could have been a small specimen of the giant yellow croaker (Bahaba taipingensis). Also known as the Chinese bahaba, it is a large sciaenid occurring only in the Yangtze south to Hong Kong. 

This species can exceed 6 feet in length and 200 pounds, but it has been fished to near extinction because of its very valuable swim bladder. Used in Chinese medicine, a large swim bladder can fetch prices of more than $5,000. Although the giant yellow croaker has a yellow mouth and a distinctive black spot above the base of the pectoral fins, without a picture we can't do much more than speculate. -- Ben Diggles