Because the Chinese paddlefish lived only in the Yangtze River in China, they began a steep decline after the construction of the Gezhouba Dam in 1981 in the middle of the Yangtze.
The dam blocked the migration route of the Chinese paddlefish, preventing adult fishes from reaching their spawning grounds in the upper part of the river. Their long lifespan also worked against them, as their late sexual maturation meant the population would take longer to recover from a decline.
Moreover, paddlefish swam in schools along the river, making them an easy catch for fishing nets.
Although the species has been listed as "critically endangered" since 1996, no individual Chinese paddlefish has been seen for over 10 years, despite repeated searches. The last recorded individuals were two adult females in 2003, and no young paddlefish have been seen since 1995.
Although it is not confirmed, the IUCN suggests this species is extinct.