On April 25, a group of people in Beijing taking part in a Buddhist folk ritual poured about 550 pounds of live fish into the Chaobai river to accrue virtue through their acts of mercy. The activity lasted about ten minutes, with some reciting Buddhist scriptures as others threw the fish out of buckets.
But the deed turned out to be anything but merciful, as the fish, weighing about three pounds each, could be seen struggling and dying in the low-quality waters of the Chaobai.
“The Chaobai river is not suited for the release of wildlife. Fish from aquatic farms are doomed to die once released here,” an official from the bureau regulating the river told Beijing Evening News.
The water, in addition to being dirty, is poor in oxygen content compared to that found in farms, which asphyxiated some of the fish.
The ritual activity was organized by a professional group, which apparently led the participants to believe that the river was a good place to free the fish, which they purchased from suppliers for the express purpose of the ritual.
One witness said that the participants had given the party organizer hundreds of yuan (dozens of dollars) to purchase the farm-raised bighead carp.
“There have always been people performing live release in the Chaobai river, but I’ve never seen so many fish being freed at once,” the witness said.
The Buddhist ritual has been notorious for causing ecological damage. Fish and other aquatic life are often freed in areas where they either die off and cause pollution or become invasive pests. Foxes released in areas where they are not common may menace local fowl.
Internet users commented on the news. One wryly lamented that the fish were not cooked and eaten, so that they could “at least die in clean water.” Another criticized the ritual itself: “They’re too keen on buying luck, so they’ve inadvertently created bad karma for themselves.”
The authorities at the Chaobai do not allow the ritual, and stare at participants until they leave, the Beijing Evening News reported.