The giant Southeast Asian catfish is in danger of extinction, a recent report concluded.
According to the report, “River of Giants: Giant Fish of the Mekong,” a plan to build hydropower dams along the Mekong River in Laos will threaten the survival the Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas). The conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released the report in July and is concerned that the 11 planned dams would block the migration route of the giant catfish.
“A fish the size of a Mekong giant catfish, simply will not be able to swim across a large barrier like a dam to reach its spawning grounds upstream,” said Roger Mollot, a freshwater biologist for WWF in Laos. “This would lead to the collapse of the wild population of this iconic species.”
The first proposed dam in Sayabouly province would be located in the lower Mekong River in Laos. According to WWF, the giant catfish migrants from Cambodia up north to Thailand and Laos and the dam would threaten the survival of the giant catfish.
“Building the Sayabouly dam would reduce sediment and nutrients from flowing downstream to the Mekong River Delta,” the WWF reports. “This will reduce the ability of the delta to replenish itself and lead to increased coastal erosion, inundation, and saltwater intrusion from sea level rise and more intense tropical storms associated with climate change.
“This will potentially displace millions of people and cause agricultural land worth millions of dollars to be lost.”
The Mekong River Commission is currently looking at the environmental and economic impact the dam may have in Laos.
In a January report on the commission’s website, concerns about poverty are highlighted. “Hydropower development in Lao PDR, as a priority for poverty alleviation and export oriented,” stated the Lao PDR Working Group report. The report also focuses on the conservation of indigenous fishes on the river. The commission will approve or deny the construction of the dam.
The WWF also reports that the Giant freshwater stingray (Himantura Chaophraya), Giant dog-eating catfish (Pangasius Sanitwongsei) and Giant barb (Catlocarpio siamensis) are also endangered species along the Mekong River, if the proposed dams are built.
“More giant fish live in the Mekong than any other river on Earth,” said Dang Thuy Trang, a WWF Mekong River ecoregion coordinator. “Currently, the Lower Mekong remains free-flowing, which presents a rare opportunity for the conservation of these species. But the clock is ticking.”
The Mekong River, which is twelfth longest river in the world, also runs through other countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.