The Mekong giant catfish, found in the Mekong basin in Southeast Asia, is the world’s largest scaleless freshwater fish, and is sadly critically endangered. Are we too late to save them?
Their numbers have declined due mainly to overfishing, but also their habitat and breeding grounds have mostly been destroyed. Now there are only small schools of them surviving, but the present population number is unknown.
According to a 2011 report on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Mekong giant catfish is categorized as “Critically Endangered” because, “a decline of more than 80% over the last 21 years (since 1990) can be estimated from past annual catch records.” Now in 2017, it’s alarming to consider this population decline in light of the aforementioned statistics.
With no teeth, they rely on plants or algae that grow on submerged rocks for their food supply. They also need huge expanses of water for migration, and certain conditions for breeding and spawning. Their life cycle has suffered a tremendous blow owing to the number of dams being built.
Giant catfish grow to their massive size in a short time span, and can weigh up to 650 pounds (300 kg) in six years.
They have been known to reach an incredible 10 feet (about 3 m) in length, and can grow even bigger and heavier than the average grizzly bear. But their numbers have diminished alarmingly. There are efforts to save the giant catfish—Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia have made it illegal to harvest them.
Trials to breed the catfish in captivity and release them have largely proved unsuccessful.
It is almost impossible to monitor many areas where fishermen are still illegally catching fish, so enforcing restrictions seems impossible. Let’s hope conservationists can come up with a solution to save them.