- Roberts, T.R. and C. Vidthayanon 1991 Systematic revision of the Asian catfish family Pangasiidae, with biological observations and descriptions of three new species. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philad. 143:97-144. (Ref. 7432)
- Baird, I.G., V. Inthaphaisy, P. Kisouvannalath, B. Phylavanh and B. Mounsouphom 1999 The fishes of southern Lao. Lao Community Fisheries and Dolphin Protection Project. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lao PDR.161 p. (Ref. 30857)
- Kottelat, M. 2001 Fishes of Laos. WHT Publications Ltd., Colombo 5, Sri Lanka. 198 p. (Ref. 43281)
Habitat and Ecology
The fish was bred in captivity for the first time in 2001. Individuals artificially spawned from wild-caught parents have been released into the Mekong since 1985, however this practice is now thought to have stopped and fish are now only introduced into reservoirs and not into the Mekong (Z. Hogan pers. comm. 2011). The fish almost certainly spawns upstream of Chiang Khong, Thailand. Possible spawning sites include the Kok River near Chiang Saen, Thailand, although this site requires confirmation (C. Vidthayanon pers. comm. 2011). Previously known spawning sites in the Mekong River are between Loei and Nong Khai Provinces, and in Ubon Ratchathani Province before the river fully enters Lao
First maturation is 17 years, from artificial breeding recorded of the first offspring from wild spawners in the Thai Department of Fishery's ponds. Generation length for captive fish is possibly 35 years, but this is probably not representative of the wild fish. For wild individuals, generation length has been reported as less than ten years, however this is difficult to verify. The best estimate of generation length is between 10 and 15 years (Z. Hogan pers. comm. 2003), but this is a very uncertain estimate and further research on the life history of this species is needed to confirm this.
- Riede, K. 2004 Global register of migratory species - from global to regional scales. Final Report of the R&D-Projekt 808 05 081. Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, Bonn, Germany. 329 p. (Ref. 51243)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Pangasianodon gigas
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pangasianodon gigas
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Historical reports indicate that the species was abundant in the early 1900s. However, in the 1970s, local fisheries began to report the disappearance of this fish. Generation length for the species is thought to be between 10 and 15 years. Current population size is unknown, but a decline of more than 80% over the last 21 years (since 1990) can be estimated from past annual catch records, qualifying the species for Critically Endangered under criterion A.
Fishing effort in the Mekong basin in general is increasing. Fishing effort specifically for this species in the Mekong River remains constant, although it may be increasing in some areas, such as in the Tonle Sap Lake. Habitat loss and degradation are also serious threats to this fish. There has been increasing siltation of the Mekong mainstream through past deforestation practices in the northern parts of the Mekong River area. The planned destruction of rapids in the stretch of the Mekong River in the northern Lao PDR, northern Thailand and southern China may also pose a serious threat to the species' spawning habitat. The loss of migratory routes through the construction of dams may also have a negative impact on fish abundance in the river.
Given the ongoing threats to the species and its habitat, the population decline rate seen over the last 21 years is not expected to diminish over the next 24 years. Therefore, the species is assessed as Critically Endangered A4bcde.
- 2003Critically Endangered(IUCN 2003)
- 2003Critically Endangered
- 1996Endangered(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
- 1994Vulnerable(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Vulnerable(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Pangasianodon gigas , see its USFWS Species Profile
From Thailand, there were 428 fish landed between 1983 and 2009. The species is targeted during the spawning season in Thailand and Lao (for roe). In 2010, no specimens were caught as fishing was banned. There is a quota set each year (catchment wide); in 2010 the quota was zero.
1983 - 2 landings
1990 - 65 landings
1993 - 22
1994-96 - zero
2004 - 7
2009 - 1
In Chiang Khong (northern Thailand), the catch has declined from a peak of 69 fish in 1990 to just seven fish in 1997 (Sretthachuea 1995, Hogan 1998). In 1999, 20 fish were captured in Chiang Khong, however no fish were caught in the area in 2001 (Hogan et al. 2001) or in 2002. In Nong Khai Province (northeast Thailand) 40-50 fish were caught per year in the early 1900s. However, since that time the number of fish caught has declined. In 1967, fishermen captured 11 fish in the area (Pookaswan 1969), and by 1970, the species occurred only rarely as bycatch in the beach seine fisheries (Pholprasith and Tavarutmaneegul 1998). Today, very few individuals are reported from Nong Khai Province.
In Luang Prabang (northern Lao PDR) the catch declined from 12 fish per year to just three fish caught in 1968. No fish were caught in 1972, 1973, or 1974 (Davidson 1975) and there has been no significant catch of the species reported since that time (Hogan et al. 2001). There are no recent data available on P. gigas catches in this area, but catches here are likely to be rare (Z. Hogan pers. comm. 2011).
In the Khone Falls (southern Lao PDR), a few fish were reported by fishermen each year prior to 1993, almost all of them in the first half of the year. No fish were reported in 1993. The status of the species in the Khone Falls area has not been assessed since 1993 (Baird, pers. comm. 2003). Since 2005, there have been some catches in the Khone Falls area; around 0-2 fish are caught each year as they move upstream and possibly over the falls (Z. Hogan pers. comm. 2011).
In the Tonle Sap River (Cambodia), four fish were captured in the bagnet fishery in 1999 and eleven fish reported in 2000. Fishermen report that they catch a few individuals each year (Hogan et al. 2001, Pengbun et al. 2001). No recent data are available from this area, but it is still likely that less than 10 Giant Catfish are caught here each year (Z. Hogan pers. comm. 2011).
Anecdotal information suggests that the species was once present in the Mekong Delta (Viet Nam), but is now reported as being very rare. One fish was caught close to, but not in, Viet Nam in 2003 (Z. Hogan, pers. comm. 2003). No significant fishery for the species exists in Viet Nam (Lenormand 1996).
Overall annual catch data for the Mekong River area indicate that around ten years ago 40-50 fish were caught each year. By 2003, the figure had dropped to approximately 5-8 catches per year (Z. Hogan, pers. comm. 2003). Since 2003, efforts to gather catch data for Giant Catfish have reduced and as a result very little data is available for recent years. However annual catches are still likely to be very low. The Tonle Sap River is one of the last places where the fish is caught in appreciable numbers. Although the species has been disappearing from Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam, there is little information on population trends in Cambodia (Hogan et al. 2001). In 2001 and 2002, no specimens were caught in northern Thailand. Annual catch figures for the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia over recent years were, four in 2000, 11 in 2001 and five in 2002.
Alongside overfishing, main threats to the species include habitat loss and degradation (for example, as a result of damming of the Mun River and clearance of flooded forest in the Tonle Sap Great Lake), and genetic introgression with cultured stocks.
The Thai Department of Fisheries began releasing captive-bred individuals in 1985. Between 2000 and 2003, approximately 10,000 captive-bred fish were released into the Mekong. Captive-bred individuals are no longer released into the Mekong, however they are released into reservoirs in Thailand. Large fish are now caught regularly in some Thai reservoirs but there is no evidence of self-sustaining populations. The fish have also been artificial hybridized with P. hypophthalmus for aquaculture purposes.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Mekong giant catfish
The Mekong giant catfish, Pangasianodon gigas (Thai: ปลาบึก, rtgs: pla buek, pronounced [plāː bɯ̀k]; Khmer: ត្រីរាជ /trəy riec/; Vietnamese: cá tra dầu), is a very large, critically endangered species of catfish (order Siluriformes) in the shark catfish family (Pangasiidae), native to the Mekong basin in Southeast Asia and adjacent China. In Thai folklore, this fish is regarded with reverence, and special rituals are followed and offerings are made before fishing it.
Distribution and habitat
The Mekong giant catfish is a threatened species in the Mekong, and conservationists have focused on it as a flagship species to promote conservation on the river. Although research projects are currently ongoing, relatively little is known about this species. Historically, the fish's natural range reached from the lower Mekong in Vietnam (above the tidally influenced brackish water of the river's delta) all the way to the northern reaches of the river in the Yunnan province of China, spanning almost the entire 4,800 km (3,000 mi) length of the river. Due to threats, this species no longer inhabits the majority of its original habitat; it is now believed to only exist in small, isolated populations in the middle Mekong region. Fish congregate during the beginning of the rainy season and migrate upstream to spawn. They live primarily in the main channel of the river, where the water depth is over 10 m (33 ft), while researchers, fishermen and officials have found this species in the Tonle Sap River and Lake in Cambodia, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. In the past, fishermen have reported the fish in a number of the Mekong's tributaries; today,[when?] however, essentially no sightings are reported outside of the main Mekong river channel and the Tonle Sap region.
As fry, this species feeds on zooplankton in the river and is known to be cannibalistic. After approximately one year, the fish becomes herbivorous, feeding on filamentous algae, probably ingesting larvae and periphyton accidentally. The fish likely obtains its food from algae growing on submerged rocky surfaces, as it does not have any sort of dentition.
Appearance and size
Grey to white in colour and lacking stripes, the Mekong giant catfish is distinguished from other large catfish species in this river by the near-total lack of barbels and the absence of teeth. The Mekong giant catfish currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records' position for the world's largest freshwater fish. Attaining an unconfirmed length of 3 m (9.8 ft), the Mekong giant catfish grows extremely quickly, reaching a mass of 150 to 200 kg (330 to 440 lb) in six years. It can reportedly weigh up to 350 kg (770 lb). The largest catch recorded in Thailand since record-keeping began in 1981 was a female measuring 2.7 m (8 ft 10 in) in length and weighing 293 kg (646 lb). This specimen, caught in 2005, is widely recognized as the largest freshwater fish ever caught (although the largest sturgeon species can far exceed this size, they are anadromous). Thai Fisheries officials stripped the fish of its eggs as part of a breeding programme, intending then to release it, but the fish died in captivity and was sold as food to local villagers.
Endemic to the lower half of the Mekong River, this catfish is in danger of extinction due to overfishing, as well as the decrease in water quality due to development and upstream damming. The current IUCN Red List for fishes classes the species as Critically Endangered; the number living in the wild is unknown, but catch data indicate the population has fallen by 80% in the last 14 years. It is also listed in Appendix I of CITES, banning international trade involving wild-caught specimens.
In The Anthropologists' Cookbook (1977), Jessica Kuper noted the importance of the pa beuk to the Lao people and remarked, "In times gone by, this huge fish, which is found only in the Mekong, was fairly plentiful, but in the last few years, the number taken annually has dwindled to forty, thirty or twenty, and perhaps in 1976 even fewer. This is sad, as it is a noble fish and a mysterious one, revered by the Lao."
Fishing for the Mekong giant catfish is illegal in the wild in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, but the bans appear to be ineffective and the fish continue to be caught in all three countries. However, in recognition of the threat to the species, nearly 60 Thai fishermen agreed to stop catching the endangered catfish in June 2006, to mark the 60th anniversary of Bhumibol Adulyadej's ascension to the throne of Thailand. Thailand is the only country to allow fishing for private stocks of Mekong giant catfish. This helps save the species, as lakes purchase the small fry from the government breeding programme, generating extra income that allows the breeding program to function. Fishing lakes, such as Bueng Samran (บึงสำราญ) in Bangkok, have the species up to 140 kg (310 lb). The most common size landed is 18 kg (40 lb), although some companies specialise in landing the larger fish.
The species needs to reach 50–70 kg (110–150 lb) to breed, and it does not breed in lakes. The Thailand Fishery Department has instituted a breeding programme to restock the Mekong River. From 2000 to 2003, about 10,000 captive-bred specimens were released by the Thai authorities. At present,[when?] specimens are released into reservoirs rather than the Mekong River itself.
- Hogan, Z. (2011). "Pangasianodon gigas". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
- Pla Buek: The Giant Catfish of the Mae Khong River Chiangrai
- Hogan, Z. S. (2004). "Threatened Fishes of the World: Pangasianodon gigas Chevey, 1931 (Pangasiidae)". Environmental Biology of Fishes 70 (3): 210–210. doi:10.1023/B:EBFI.0000033487.97350.4c.
- MGCCG, 2005
- Lopez, Alvin, ed. (2007). "2.3 Focal species". MWBP working papers on Mekong Giant Catfish, Pangasianodon gigas. Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use Programme.
- Mattson, Niklas S.; Buakhamvongsa, Kongpheng; Sukumasavin, Naruepon; Tuan, Nguyen; Ouk (2002). "Mekong giant fish species: on their management and biology". Mekong River Commission technical paper (3): 14.
- (Pholprasith, 1983 as cited in Mattson et al. 2002)
- (Pookaswan, 1989 and Jensen, 1997 as cited in Mattson et al. 2002)
- Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2014). "Pangasianodon gigas" in FishBase. July 2014 version.
- Mydans, Seth (2005-08-25). "Hunt for the big fish becomes a race". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
- Owen, James (2005-06-29). "Grizzly Bear-Size Catfish Caught in Thailand". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2006-06-29.
- "Fish whopper: 646 pounds a freshwater record". 2005-07-01. Retrieved 2006-06-29.
- "Giant Catfish Critically Endangered, Group Says". National Geographic News. 2003-11-18. Retrieved 2006-06-29.
- "CITES Appendices I, II and III". CITES. 2006-06-14. Retrieved 2006-06-29.
- Kuper, Jessica (1977). The Anthropologists' Cookbook. Universe Books. p. 167.
- "Giant Mekong catfish off the hook". BBC News. 2006-06-10. Retrieved 2006-06-29.
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