Mekong Giant Catfish | WWF

Mekong Giant Catfish



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A Mekong giant catfish swimming close to the surface in northern Cambodia's section of the Mekong River.
© Tan Someth Bunwath / WWF-Cambodia

Key Facts

  • Common Name

    Mekong Giant Catfish

  • Scientific Name

    Pangasianodon gigas

  • Status

    IUCN: Critically Endangered; CITES: Appendix I

    IUCN Red List Entry

  • Body Length

    Up to 320cm

  • Weight

    Up to 300kg

  • Did you know?

    World's largest freshwater fish

Like the Irrawaddy dolphin, the Mekong giant catfish symbolizes the ecological integrity of the Mekong River and is one of the Mekong Ecoregion’s flagship species. As one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, it is endemic to the Mekong Basin and formerly inhabited long stretches of the Mekong River from southern Cambodia through Thailand to northern Lao PDR. For largely unknown reasons probably including overfishing and habitat degradation, population size of Mekong giant catfish has been steadily decreasing since the 1970’s, probably by over 80%. This trend may continue, especially with future dam projects threatening to block catfish migration routes as well as destruction of rapids and critical spawning habitat. Conservation efforts are currently underway to gain critical data on catfish distribution, migration, and spawning, to better manage catfish protected areas, as well as to reduce fishing pressure on giant catfish and raise public and media awareness.

Another species of giant catfish, the Chao Praya giant catfish or giant pangasius (Pangasius sanitwongsei), inhabits the Mekong Basin as well as its namesake Chao Praya Basin in Thailand. It grows to similar sizes as the Mekong giant catfish and is also critically endangered. The species’ population size is estimated to have decreased by 99% in recent decades most likely due to overfishing for food. Not much is known about this species’ status in the Mekong River’s central section where WWF’s work is centered, and more research is needed to develop an effective species management plan.
 
	© Niimura Yasuo / WWF-Cambodia
Fishermen sometimes still capture Mekong giant catfish in the Cambodian section of the Mekong River.
© Niimura Yasuo / WWF-Cambodia