On August 11, 2022, China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) learned of a report from the China Philanthropist. The report describes how CBCGDF fight against the rampant electroshock hunting of earthworms via Environmental Public Interest Litigation (EPIL), which can be the first successful one of its kind in China. It also expounds the importance of earthworms to soil and the entire ecosystem.
The report is now translated as follows:
To Protect the “Underground Workers” – Earthworms
“Public welfare organizations have won public interest litigations against some e-commerce companies over the exterminating practice of electroshock hunting of earthworms, and will sue the platforms next.”
（Photo: Visual China. Earthworms can be used for Chinese medicine.）
In recent years, earthworms, known as underground workers, are facing an unprecedented crisis. Just spend a few hundred yuan for an “electroshock earthworm device” via the e-commerce platform, and in less than a minute once it gets started, a large number of earthworms of varying lengths will be drilled out of the soil. Many people get “rich” fast in this way.
Earthworms have earned a long list of reputations for their irreplaceable role in the ecology, such as “earth dragon”, “gardener of nature”, “biological plough in the field”, “ecosystem engineer”, “soil fertility transformer” and “micro soil improvement workshop”, etc. The value of earthworms for ecology is immeasurable, and they have played an extraordinary role in increasing soil oxygen levels, degrading soil pesticide residues, and even improving air quality. They can also be used as a traditional Chinese herbal medicine, with the role of dredging collaterals and calming asthma. Earthworms are the main raw material for the production of antihypertensive, vasodilatory and thrombolytic drugs, as well as the main fish bait and poultry feed.
It is these unique values of earthworms that have led to their own death. Some unscrupulous businesses and individuals use electroshock devices to kill earthworms in the soil.
A battle to protect earthworms has begun.
Exterminative Hunting of Earthworms
About 20 years ago, A GUI (pseudonym), a farmer in Henan province, knew that earthworms could be sold for money. But back then, earthworms were dug with a hoe, then cut open with a blade, dried outdoors, and sold at the market for 15 to 20 yuan a kilogram.
With just a hoe, a person who spends a full day digging up earthworms can sell them for just about 10 yuan.
“During the off-season, many villagers did this. They had to dig all day long. It was much more tiring than doing other farm work in the fields, but farmers will get much more accordingly.” GUI told China Philanthropist, “At that time, we had to turn the whole field over to dig earthworms, so we had to wait until after the crop was harvested”.
Around 2013, GUI learned that the electroshock earthworm device could be accessible from online, and could be used to catch all the earthworms in the ground without much effort.
With the idea of giving it a try, he spent more than 600 yuan for an electroshock earthworm device from the Internet. And soon he was quite amazed by the stunning outcome of getting all the earthworms in the field in a short time with the incredible “high-tech” device.
In fact, the device uses a very simple electroshock principle to release an extremely high level of electricity into the soil underground, and the earthworms in the soil are all out due to breathing difficulties.
GUI said that an electroshock earthworm device with a fully charged battery can work continuously for two to three hours, with which it would be no problem to get more than 200 kilograms of earthworms a day.
Prices vary depending on the species, finish and quality of the earthworms. Overall, the price of earthworms has soared in recent years. Now a half kilogram of dried earthworms can be sold for more than 100 yuan, and a farmer can catch hundreds of kilograms of wet earthworms (5 kilograms of wet earthworms can be dried into a half kilogram of dry earthworms) a day with the electroshock earthworm device, which means that farmers can earn up to thousands of RMB per day from hunting earthworms by electroshock.
In recent years, the electroshock earthworm device has been updated with a much higher output. A better electroshock earthworm device is about 800 yuan, and can work 5-6 hours when fully charged. With it farmers can hunt 150 kilograms of earthworms a day in an “undeveloped” field.
Many people have learned about the amazing effect of the electroshock earthworm device through short videos in TikTok and Kuaishou, and join in the team of hunting earthworms.
In April 2022, prosecutors of the People’s Procuratorate of Lianshui County, Jiangsu Province, unearthed the industry chain of electroshock earthworms with a complete “one-stop” service of “production, supply and marketing” during a routine inspection, and found the huge impact this profitable industry has on the land.
The illegally hunted earthworms are either sent to illegal processing sites for dried earthworms, which are sold to pharmaceutical manufacturers, or bought and sold to feed mills to be made into highly nutritious feed for breeding.
Someone set up processing sites, specializing in the acquisition of fresh earthworms, and making them into dried ones. There are five such illegal processing sites in just one town in Lianshui. These processing sites can send thousands of kilograms of dried earthworms to pharmaceutical factories in Henan and Hebei provinces every day. According to the calculation that 5 kilograms of live earthworms can be dried to make half kilograms of earthworms, almost 5,000 kilograms of earthworms are caught every day in this small town.
In addition to the negative ecological impact, the earthworm electrocution device could also pose threats to personal safety. In 2020, a young man in Peixian County, Jiangsu province, was unfortunately electrocuted while testing an earthworm catcher he had just purchased in front of his house, according to published media reports. This year, a villager in his 70s in Rugao, Jiangsu province, died of electrocution while catching earthworms with his homemade electric earthworm-catching device.
Public Interest Litigation
CBCGDF, as a public welfare organization that has long been focusing on ecological and environmental development, has been committed to fighting against illegal hunting of earthworms with the destructive electroshock device by filing public interest litigations against some e-commerce companies, believing that excessive hunting of earthworms will bring irreversible damage to the ecological environment and has a significant risk of damaging the public interest, which constitutes an infringement of the environment; and some e-commerce companies offer the opportunity to drive earthworms to extermination by selling electro-hunting devices online. An investigation by CBCGDF found that on some e-commerce platforms, there are as many as tens of thousands of shops selling electronic earthworm traps, with monthly sales reaching thousands.
On August 12, 2021, the Intermediate People’s Court of Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, issued a first-instance judgment, ruling that three companies selling “electroshock earthworm devices” should pay a total of about 1.59 million yuan for economic losses, and published an apology statement on national media. On Feb 17, 2022, the Guangdong Provincial High People’s Court affirmed the original verdict in the second instance.
“Illegal electro-hunting of earthworms being increasingly rampant, the ban on electric earthworm fishing is now a matter of urgency.” Zhou Jinfeng, Secretary-General of CBCGDF, told China Philanthropist that after repeatedly communicating with the e-commerce platform and reporting to no avail, his team had to take legal actions to sue the e-commerce businesses.
Dr. Zhou believed that it would be devastating if it was allowed to electro-hunt earthworms at the current rate. “We cannot wait until they’re endangered and then protect them, when it will be too late.” He said.
The first earthworm case in China initiated by CBCGDF, in which the court ruled against the business, is of great significance to similar cases, especially to guide other public interest organizations and procuratorial organs in bringing public interest litigations in related ecological and environmental protection.
(Photo Credit: Visual China. An earthworm breeding base in Pingyin County, Jinan, Shandong province, June 11, 2021.)
Legal Controversy over Earthworms
Although the first earthworm case has been hammered, the controversy surrounding the case has been still on, the main controversy focusing on the “legal status” of earthworms, i.e., whether the earthworms belong to the protected wild animals from a legal perspective.
The lack of effective legal protection for earthworms in higher laws such as the Wildlife Protection Law and the Environmental Protection Law has led to the awkward situation where hunting earthworms is illegal in some places, while not in others.
Currently, the regions that have made relevant legal regulations for earthworm protection include Haikou City in Hainan Province (2018), Guangdong Province (revised on March 31, 2020), Beijing (implementation begins on June 1, 2020), Mabian Yi Autonomous County in Leshan City, Sichuan Province (July 2020), and Lianshui County in Huai’an City, Jiangsu Province (May 12, 2022).
For those areas that do not have introduced relevant local laws and regulations, it will undoubtedly be more difficult for public interest organizations or procurators to file public interest litigations against the illegal electroshock of earthworms.
Although earthworms are not included in the relevant authoritative protection lists and laws & regulations, they are still wild animals that play an important role in the soil ecosystem, and human economic use of them must be within a reasonable range, Dr. Zhou Jinfeng said.
- commerce platforms need to be Urgently Regulated
Earthworms have made significant contributions to the ecological environment.
Darwin once commented on the value of earthworms: “If the plough is one of the earliest inventions of man, then before man appeared on the earth, the earth has been cultivated by earthworms, and will continue to be cultivated by them. It’s hard to find other creatures that have played such an important role in the course of world history, despite their humble appearance.”
《腐植土的产生与蚯蚓的作用》(The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms), 又称《蚯蚓》was Darwin’s last work, published in 1881. Charles Robert Darwin, was British biologist and founder of the theory of evolution. At the time, Darwin reasoned that if there were 50,000 earthworms per acre, they could eat the soil and produce 7.68 to 18.41 tons of manure per year. If spread flat on the ground, this vermis would be 2.54 to 3.81 centimeters thick in 10 years, gradually changing the soil.
In the past, the most important factors affecting the growth of earthworms were temperature and precipitation. While now, the electroshock earthworm device has been a major threat to their survival.
“The lawsuit has had some effect, but it still hasn’t solved the problem, and the instrument is still being sold on various platforms.” Zhou told China Philanthropist that sometimes the platform would restrict streaming and take down the sale, but the seller would change its name, register again and start selling again.
On August 5, the reporter searched “earthworm instrument” directly on Taobao, and there was no relevant commodity; When searching for “earthworm traps”, Chinese medicinal materials related to earthworms are also found. But a search for the word “earthworm” reveals a plethora of vendors selling “earthworm instrument.”
A monthly sales of more than 1000 pieces of businesses told reporters that the more the capacitor out of the earthworm faster, more, the greater the range. “It is suggested that the device with 12 capacitors works better for home use, and the price is around 400 yuan. If you want to get rich, you should buy more powerful ones.” said the customer service officer.
In the evaluation of the e-commerce, there is no lack of praise: “better than imagined, it needs only one second to hunt the earthworms,” …….
The most widespread economic value of earthworms is that they can be used as feed for poultry, sold as bait in fishing tackle shops, and used in traditional Chinese medicine. Dr. Zhou researched and found that there is not as much demand for earthworms in the market as people might think. And disorderly marketing, false propaganda, have resulted in the market illusion. Merchants infinitely magnify market demand for profits.
“Twenty years ago, no one would have thought that the fish in the Yangtze River would be depleted, and the rampant electrofishing has made this trend apparent in just a few years. Although earthworms have a high reproductive capacity, they will eventually face endangerment or even depletion if they continue to be electroshocked in such a disorderly manner, which will cause incalculable damage to the ecological environment.” Dr. Zhou called for the urgent protection of earthworms by listing them on the relevant lists.
Original Chinese Article: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/ib9-_QUhdfVXcxCQvF5R2w
Translator: Lan Yilin
Checked by Samantha
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