Conservation status: CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
Common Name: Mekong giant catfish
Scientific Name: Pangasianodon gigas
Length: 3 meters
Weight : 300 kg
The Mekong giant catfish is a threatened species in the Mekong. Although research projects are currently ongoing, relatively little is known about this species. Historically, the fish’s natural range reached from the lower Mekong in Vietnam (above the tidally influenced brackish water of the river’s delta) all the way to the northern reaches of the river in the Yunnan Province of China, spanning almost the entire 4,800 km (3,000 mi) length of the river. Due to threats, this species no longer inhabits the majority of its original habitat. It is now believed to only exist in small, isolated populations in the middle Mekong region.
Endemic to the lower half of the Mekong River, this catfish is in danger of extinction due to overfishing, as well as the decrease in water quality due to development and upstream damming. The number living in the wild is unknown, but catch data indicate the population has fallen by 80 percent in the last 14 years.
Fishing for the Mekong giant catfish is illegal in the wild in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, but the bans appear to be ineffective and the fish continue to be caught in all three countries. However, in recognition of the threat to the species, nearly 60 Thai fishermen agreed to stop catching the endangered catfish in June 2006, to mark the 60th anniversary of Bhumibol Adulyadej’s ascension to the throne of Thailand. Thailand is the only country to allow fishing for private stocks of Mekong giant catfish. This helps save the species, as lakes purchase the small fry from the government breeding program, generating extra income that allows the breeding program to function.
The species needs to reach 50–70 kg (110–150 lb) to breed, and it does not breed in lakes. The Thailand Fisheries Department has instituted a breeding program to restock the Mekong River. From 2000 to 2003, about 10,000 captive-bred specimens were released by the Thai authorities.
- “Pangasianodon gigas“. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.