The Giant Mekong Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) is the largest freshwater fish in the world. It is endemic to the Lao stretch of the Mekong river, where it is in danger of extinction due to overfishing as well as the decrease of water quality due to developement and upstream damming.
The fish reaches a length of 3 meters and a weight of 150-200 kg within 5 years, with the highest weight on record being 350 kg. It has successfully been transferred into reservoirs and lakes in Thailand for sportfishing.
In Laos, it is called "Pa Beuk," and is the most highly-esteemed fish in Lao cuisine. In former times, specific rites were associated with the catch of these fish, which was conducted once yearly.
The Mekong River's giant catfish (Pangasianodon Gigas) is on the path to extinction.
Today's release of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) updated 2003 Red List of Threatened Species shows that the flagship species of the storied river in Southeast Asia is classified as Critically Endangered, its numbers further reduced from its classification as Endangered in the previous IUCN Red List.
"P. gigas—the largest freshwater fish according to the Guinness Book of Records—is now very rare in northeast Thailand, southern Lao PDR, and Vietnam," said IUCN in a news release issued today. "Only 11 and eight fish were caught in 2001 and 2002 respectively. In 2003, fishers captured six giant catfish in Cambodia, all of which were released as part of the Mekong Fish Conservation Project."
The disappearance of the Mekong giant catfish is a sign of the slow decline of environmental conditions throughout the river. Like many species in the Mekong, the giant catfish needs great stretches of the river to migrate seasonally—and it must have specific water quality and flow to move through its lifecycles of spawning, eating, and breeding.But the Mekong is under threat from human development. Millions of people along its banks in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam rely on the river for their livelihood. Growing pressure by fisheries, damming, and habitat destruction threaten not only the giant catfish and other species that live in the river—but also the welfare of the people who depend on the Mekong.