A THAI fishermen netted what is thought to be the world’s biggest freshwater fish, a 292kg (644 pound) Mekong giant catfish, in the Mekong River, northern Thailand.

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The news comes from the World Wildlife Foundations, which hopes the catch will highlight the plight of the Mekong giant catfish, which is a critically endangered species. It is Southeast Asia’s largest and rarest fish, and is one of a number of giant fish species under investigation in a WWF and National Geographic Society (NGS) joint conservation project. A century ago the Mekong giant catfish was found the entire length of the river from Vietnam to southern China. Today, the population is in decline, scientists estimate the number has decreased by about 90 percent in the past 20 years.


The Mekong River Basin, where WWF has worked for more than ten years, is home to more species of giant fish than any other river on earth. It is also the most productive river fishery in the world, generating $1.4 billion each year, and providing the primary source of protein for much more than the 73 million people that live along the river.


Jamie Pittock, Head of the WWF’s Global Freshwater Programme: “This catfish is as heavy as a grizzly bear. It’s amazing to think that giants like this still swim in some of the world’s rivers. This amazing species could be gone within the next few years if nothing is done to save it.”


Species like the Mekong giant catfish are listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union, meaning it’s at risk of extinction. Dams are often cited as one of the major threats facing catfish as they block migration routes. Without the ability to move up and down rivers, the fish have fewer opportunities to breed. 


Dr Zeb Hogan, WWF conservation science fellow: Due to the precarious state of the Mekong giant catfish and other large fish, the effort to protect these amazing creatures is a race against the clock.  We must act now before species like the Mekong giant catfish are gone forever.”


The WWF/National Geographic Society joint project has been exploring rivers and lakes for the largest freshwater fish around the world since the end of last year. The Mekong giant catfish is one of its flagship species because the conservation measures needed to protect it would also help protect a whole range of other species.