A massive whale shark was on full display for residents of Xiangzhi, in the Fujian province of eastern China. But unfortunately for the bombastic fisherman, who finally had a literal whale of a tale story to tell his fellow anglers, the immense catch parading about on top of the man’s odd-looking truck, looking like a pageant float gone bad, was quite illegal.
Disturbing images of the endangered and protected whale shark carcass, strapped down by both ends atop fisherman Cai Chengzhu’s tumbledown truck, caused an immediate outcry on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter.
According to Yahoo! News, 48-year-old Capt. Cai Chengzhu “claims his fresh catch was an accident — and that the giant shark became stuck in his net and died while the crew was trying to release it.”
Chengzhu says the whale shark broke through their net in order to get at the fish that were trapped inside. Once the shark was caught in the net, Chengzhu says they were unable to free it. Bringing it ashore, and claiming his crew did not intentionally put the endangered fish to death, the captain presented the two-ton shark to the fish market, where a fish of that size can yield a payday of 10 to 20 thousand Yuan, or between $1,500 to $3,200.
“By the time we managed to free it, sadly it was too late,” Chengzhu said. “It was really unfortunate and we did our best to free it, but having caught it and because it was already dead, it seemed a shame to waste it.”
Officials from the Fujian fisheries department at the weigh station evidently reviewed Chengzhu’s story and allowed him to sell the 16-foot colossal catch, because of course, fishermen never lie. (Really, it was this big I tell ya’…)
“I asked the fish market officials that monitor this sort of thing, and they said that as it was already dead when we caught it and as it was there we may as well sell it,” he said. Had Chengzhu intentionally caught and killed the whale shark, he would have been punished with a hefty fine by officials trying to clamp down on China’s black market fishing industry.
Yahoo says “critics quickly cast doubt on Chengzhu's fish tale. Whale sharks are known as filter feeders and would not normally break into a fisherman’s net to eat fish.” The flat-mouthed whale sharks can live close to a century, and are our world’s largest fish.
All in a day’s work. Chengzhu ended up pocketing about $1,600 for his illegal fish.