Mekong Giant Catfish, Lao PDR/Thailand

Project title

WWF Greater Mekong Programme

Target species for conservation:

Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas)

Project news & updates


The Mekong River Basin is the richest river basin, by area, for fish biodiversity on the planet, fostering more fish species per catchment unit area than even the Amazon River. The Mekong is estimated to house at least 1,100 species of fish, including the Mekong giant catfish. One of the largest freshwater fish in the world the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish is endemic to the Mekong river system and is an indicator for the health of the ecosystem of the Mekong. Indeed many of the threats to the Mekong giant catfish are common to other species in the river such as over-fishing or habitat destruction. Seen as a flagship of the rich biodiversity and fisheries of the Mekong river which support the livelihoods of 60 million people, the Mekong giant catfish will be used in this project to support biodiversity conservation.

Mekong giant catfish (Photo: Zeb Hogan)

Mekong giant catfish (Photo: Zeb Hogan)

The giant catfish is restricted to the Mekong river and its tributaries in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, where local communities have captured specimens weighing over 300 kg and 3 m total length. The catfish may grow rapidly as a juvenile fish, but it takes several years to become mature enough to spawn in the wild. During this period it is extremely vulnerable to unsustainable fishing pressure which threatens the annual recruitment. A period of unsustainable and increasing levels of targeted fishing pressure began in the late 1980’s up to the late 90’s near the spawning habitat of giant catfish in the upper Mekong of Lao PDR and Thailand. During this period the landings of giant catfish peaked and then crashed. For three consecutive years from 2001 to 2003, no Mekong giant cathish were caught in this area, and only 16 have been caught since 2004 in Bokeo-Chiang Rai provinces. Since the drastic decline in annual catch from a record high of 71 landings in 1990 to zero catch a decade later there has been increasing interest in conservation efforts by local communities and government agencies.

Mekong giant catfish tag and release (Photo: Zeb Hogan)

Mekong giant catfish tag and release (Photo: Zeb Hogan)

Project objectives

  1. To develop and extend fisheries co-management arrangements to protect the Mekong giant catfish species and its habitats.
  2. To advocate for a moratorium in catch of the Mekong giant catfish for scientific purposes in Thailand (Chiang Rai).  
  3. To enable the implementation of the Lao Fisheries Law, which bans the catch of the Mekong giant catfish in Laos (Bokeo).
  4. To undertake research to determine the spawning habitat for the Mekong giant catfish in the upper Mekong river basin

The EAZA IUCN SSC Southeast Asia Campaign will help with engaging key players in reconciling biodiversity conservation and development objectives, using the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish as a flagship species for biodiversity conservation.