Mekong giant catfish

This is the largest freshwater fish in the world. Unique to the Mekong River, it travels huge distances each year to migrate.

Mekong River's giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) rel=
Mekong River's giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas)
© WWF-Canon / Zeb HOGAN

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Key Facts

  • Common Names

    Giant catfish; Mekong giant catfish

  • Scientific Name

    Pangasianodon gigas

  • Status

    Critically endangered; CITES appendix I

    IUCN

  • Geographic Location

    Southeast Asia

The giant of the Mekong

Physical Description

The Mekong giant catfish is a species of catfish in the shark catfish family. It is grey to white in colour and is distinguished by the near-total lack of barbels and the absence of teeth.

Size:

Length: 3m
Weight: 300kg

Habitat and Ecology

The Mekong giant catfish is the largest freshwater fish and is endemic to the Mekong River. It migrates huge distances to spawn.

Population and Distribution

It is now only found in the mainstream of the Lower Mekong in Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It used to be relatively common further north along the Thai-Lao PDR border but is now extremely rare in this area.

Scientists estimate that the total number of Mekong giant catfish have decreased by around 90% in the last decade. No population figures are available, and estimates of the decline are based on the fall in the number of specimens caught, Some experts believe there may only be a few hundred Mekong giant catfish surviving.

What are the main threats?

Threats to the Mekong giant catfish, and several other giant migratory fish species in the Mekong, include infrastructure development such as dams that block migration routes and isolate some populations. Without the ability to move up and down rivers, the fish have fewer opportunities to breed.

 Navigation projects have also destroyed critical spawning grounds and pollution and siltation have also had an impact.

A further major factor in the decline of the Mekong giant catfish is over-fishing.

What is WWF doing?

Through its Living Mekong Programme, WWF aims to ensure that environmental and social impacts are taken into account in the development of additional hydropower infrastructure. It works in partnership with other organisations including the Mekong River Comission (MRC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

WWF also implements projects dedicated to the conservation of the Mekong giant catfish including research and monitoring and raising awareness. It has supported the release of captive-bred adult specimens into the wild and research projects in partnership with National Geographic (see above):

How you can help

  • Don't support overfishing! Unsustainable fishing leads to the collapse of whole species such as the Mekong giant catfish. Buy sustainably harvested fish and seafood - look for MSC certification.
  • Spread the word! Click on the button to share this information with others via email or your favourite social networking service.

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Did you know?

    • The largest freshwater fish ever recorded was a Mekong giant catfish caught in northern Thailand in 2005. It was 2.7m and weighed 293kg.

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