IF the official count of Yangtze River fishermen is a guide, China's leaders have severely downplayed the high social costs from the Three Gorges Dam.
The Institute of Hydrobiology here says that 10,000 subsistence fishermen live below the dam site, including those fishing on the river's two adjoining lakes.
But a telephone survey of fishery officials in the five provinces below the dam - Hubai, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, and Jiangsu - counts 34,400 fishing boats on the Yangtze and its two natural reservoirs, Lakes Poyang and Dongting.
By a conservative estimate, each boat catches fish for four mouths, so 137,600 people rely on the full-time fishing boats below the dam for food and other basic needs.
The figure 137,600 probably understates the number of fishermen and their family members for the following reasons:
* Most of the 34,400 boats are manned by individual families and in the countryside extended families with more than four members are the norm. For instance, fishing families running the 13,000 boats on Dongting Lake in Hunan Province usually have as many as eight members, says Jin Qiulin, a Hunan fishery official.
* Boats routinely have several fishermen on board. Many of the 1,600 Yangtze River boats in Jiangxi Province provide a livelihood for 10 subsistence fishermen, says Wei Liju, director of Jiangxi's aquatic products bureau.
The more than 2,000 fishing boats in Jiangsu Province are manned on average by four subsistence fishermen, says Lu Zhijie, a leading Jiangsu fishery official.
The social cost from the dam will be higher still. Fishery officials in Hubei, Hunan, and Jiangxi provinces provided figures indicating that there are at least 12,000 boats run by part-time fishermen below the dam site.