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Dog-eating catfish, other river giants threatened by Mekong dam plan

This post is part of a special National Geographic news series on global water issues.

Wild populations of the iconic Mekong giant catfish will be driven to extinction if hydropower dams planned for the Mekong River go ahead, says a report released by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) today.

 Giant Catfish _Pangasianodon gigas_ ©Sut.jpg

Mekong giant catfish photo (c) Suthep Kritsanavarin/WWF-Canon

The report, River of Giants: Giant Fish of the Mekong, profiles four giant fish living in the Mekong that rank within the top 10 largest freshwater fish on the planet. “At half the length of a bus and weighing up to 1,322 pounds, the Mekong River’s giant freshwater stingray is the world’s largest freshwater fish. The critically endangered Mekong giant catfish ranks third at almost 10 feet in length and 771 pounds,” WWF says in a news release accompanying the report.

National Geographic Mekong giant catfish video courtesy of Zeb Hogan

Sayabouly dam.jpg

Map courtesy of WWF

The hydropower dam planned on the Mekong River at Sayabouly Province, northern Laos, is a threat to the survival of the wild population of Mekong giant catfish. The Sayabouly dam is the first lower Mekong River mainstream dam to enter a critical stage of assessment before construction is approved by the Mekong River Commission, which includes representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, WWF explained.

River of Giants cover.jpg“A fish the size of a Mekong giant catfish cannot swim across a large barrier like the Sayabouly dam to reach its spawning grounds upstream,” said Dekila Chungyalpa, Director of WWF’s Greater Mekong Program. “Building this and other dams will lead to the collapse of the wild population of this iconic species.”

Current scientific information suggests the Mekong giant catfish migrate from the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia up the Mekong River to spawn in northern Thailand and Laos. Any dam built on the lower Mekong River mainstream will block this migration route, WWF said.

“The other Mekong giant fish featured in the report are the dog-eating catfish, named because it has been caught using dog meat as bait, and the giant barb, the national fish of Cambodia and largest barb in the world. At 661 pounds each, these fish tie for fifth place on the global top ten,” WWF noted.

Dog-eating Catfish _Pangasius sanitwongse.JPG

Photo of giant dog-eating catfish (c) Jean-Francois Helias/courtesy of WWF

“The impacts of lower Mekong River mainstream dams are not restricted to these Mekong giants; they would also exacerbate the impacts of climate change on the Mekong River Delta, one of the world’s most productive regions for fisheries and agriculture.

“Building the Sayabouly dam would reduce sediment flowing downstream to the Mekong River Delta, increasing the vulnerability of this area to the impacts of climate change like sea level rise,” WWF said.

Mekong dams.jpg

Map courtesy of WWF

“The Lower Mekong is currently free-flowing but the clock is ticking,” Chungyalpa said. “We have a rare opportunity to conserve these freshwater giants and ensure the livelihoods of millions of people who live along the Mekong mainstream.”

Giant Barb _Catlocarpio siamensis_ ©Zeb .jpg

Photo of giant barb (c) Zeb Hogan/Courtesy of WWF

WWF supports a delay in the approval of the mainstream dams, including the Sayabouly dam, to ensure a comprehensive understanding of all the positive and negative impacts of their construction and operation.

“To meet immediate energy demands, WWF promotes sustainable hydropower projects on tributaries of the Mekong River, prioritizing those that already have hydropower dams developed on them,” the conservation charity said.

Click on the images below to enlarge a selection of pages from the WWF report River of Giants: Giant Fish of the Mekong. Visit WWF’s Greater Mekong website to learn more.

The Might Mekong page_click to enlarge.jpg

Giant freshwater stingray.jpg
Giant dog-eating catfish.jpg
Mekong giant catfish.jpg

Posted by David Braun

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Comments

  1. Mark Deane-Smith
    Australia
    October 13, 6:17 am

    Fish are just as important as any other animals. People need to consider them and their environment. We don’t HAVE to build dams on rivers, there are other ways of getting water such as separate RESERVOIRS and power from SOLAR PANELS which do not impact on the environment. Also solar is better than wind farms which can wreck the view and affect the cost of people’s land.

  2. Wisit Phadungruangkil
    Thailand
    October 1, 2013, 12:28 pm

    Too late may be

  3. Brian
    United Kingdom
    February 25, 2013, 4:39 pm

    Who is Sayuri Pamuditha??? Her name keeps coming into my life.

  4. sayuri pamuditha
    battaramulla
    August 31, 2012, 5:29 am

    mekong giant cat fish is in our science syllabus;
    so this is very useful for our daily studies

  5. parveen
    india
    June 13, 2011, 11:37 am

    viedeos

  6. Michael Sun
    Canada
    April 16, 2011, 10:30 am

    I saw some big fish before, but I have never seen huge catfish like this. This amazing. To keep this kind of species survivor, human being need to consider the impact to the ecological condition whatever the project they plan.