What a catch! | WWF
What a catch!

Posted on 31 December 2007

For the first time in recorded history, the critically endangered and culturally fabled Mekong Giant Catfish (MGC) has been caught migrating along the Mekong River at Khone Falls, Champasak Province, at the southern tip of Lao PDR.
For the first time in recorded history, the critically endangered and culturally fabled Mekong Giant Catfish (MGC) has been caught migrating along the Mekong River at Khone Falls, Champasak Province, at the southern tip of Lao PDR.

Over recent years, some fishermen from Don Sadam and Don Sahong Villages on the banks of Hou Sahong, a large channel within the falls, have laid claim to this rare catch. Despite local reports and years of fisheries research in the area, it was not until August of this year that the mammoth fish was photographed there.

Previously, it was unclear whether the MGC could swim the Hou Sahong Channel, the main avenue most fish species use to migrate over the Khone Falls in the dry season, because at up to 300 kilograms in weight and three metres in length, it was simply too large to fit.

The specimen trapped by the Don Sadam fisherman weighed around 150 kilograms and measured approximately 220 centimetres in length. Soutchai Khamphouxay, freshwater officer from WWF Lao PDR Country Programme, travelled to Don Sadam Village in early August to confirm the catch.

“It was the first time in his life the fisherman had caught a Mekong Giant Catfish… and at first, he did not know what to do with it,” said Khamphouxay.

After consideration, the fisherman kept the fish alive in his trap for two days before selling part of it for 15,000 Kip per kilo, and making Padek, fermented fish, out of the remainder to share with his community.

“The national government of Lao PDR has banned the hunting of the MGC; however, villagers were not aware of this,” said Khamphouxay.

The Mekong Giant Catfish is the world’s largest freshwater fish and is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of critically endangered species.

Historically, MGC inhabited the length of the Mekong River from the delta in Vietnam to northern Thailand. Over the years, due to habitat loss caused by development and over hunting, the Greater Mekong Region has seen the species’ population shrink drastically.

WWF Greater Mekong Programme is implementing a Giant Catfish Conservation Project in Bokeo Province, Lao PDR, and neighbouring Chaing Rai Province, Thailand, two suspected spawning grounds of the Mekong Giant Catfish. This recorded sighting, however, suggests focus should also be placed on the Khone Falls area.

‘‘We don’t know if there are two populations of catfish, one below and one above Khone Falls – if catfish laid their eggs in the north and they drifted down over the falls into Cambodia… or if individuals were swimming up from Cambodia. This sighting has major implications for the management of the entire population,” explained Mark Bezuijen, coordinator of Species, Habitat and Ecosystems for the WWF Living Mekong Programme.

WWF Lao PDR Community Fisheries Project (ComFish) is currently preparing a fact sheet about the MGC, including the recent sighting at Khone Falls.
A Giant Mekong Catfish was caught in Chiang Khong, northern Thailand, on 1 May 2005 by local fishermen. It's the largest Giant Catfish in the record since 1981, weighing 292 kg.
© Suthep Kritsanavarin