Fishers in northern Thailand netted this huge catfish in the Mekong River on May 1. Nearly nine feet long (2.7 meters) and as big as a grizzly bear, the behemoth tipped the scales at 646 pounds (293 kilograms). Experts say the fish, which belongs to the species known as the Mekong giant catfish, may be the largest freshwater fish ever recorded.
Thai fishermen caught a 646-pound catfish believed to have been the world's largest freshwater fish ever recorded, a researcher said Thursday. The 8.9 foot long Mekong giant catfish was the heaviest recorded fish since Thailand started keeping records in 1981.
The villagers had hoped to sell the fish to environmental groups, which planned to release it to spawn upriver, but it died before it could be handed over. The catfish was later sold in pieces to villagers to be eaten.
The Mekong giant catfish is considered among the world's most threatened catfish species due to dam construction and habitat degradation along the Mekong river. According to National Geographic only 11 and eight fish were caught in 2001 and 2002 respectively. In 2003, fishers captured six giant catfish in Cambodia, all of which were released as part of the Mekong Fish Conservation Project.
The monster fish announced itself with four resounding whacks of its tail, thrashing against the net that had trapped it in the pale brown water of the Mekong River.
It was a fish called the giant catfish and it was the size of a grizzly bear, taking five boatmen an hour to pull it in and 10 men to lift it when they reached the shore in this remote village in northern Thailand.
It was only after their catch had been chopped into pieces and sold that they learned how special it was. At 2.7 meters, or 9 feet, long and weighing 293 kilograms, or 646 pounds, it may be the biggest freshwater fish ever recorded.
But in one of the world's more surprising mysteries, nobody really knows which is the biggest species of fish lurking in the waters of the Mekong or the Amazon or the Yangtze or the Congo or the Colorado or Lake Baikal.
When the giant catfish was caught in May, Zeb Hogan, a biologist, rushed here from an expedition in Mongolia to take a look. It was his first trophy in a project to identify and study the world's largest freshwater fish in the hope of protecting their habitats and slowing their extinction.
Sponsored by the National Geographic Society and the World Wildlife Fund, Hogan has embarked on an 18-month expedition that will take him to five continents and more than a dozen rivers.
Some species may already be too rare to study, but he has started with the Mekong, which he said had seven species of huge fish, more than any other river, along with at least 750 other species.
All of them are threatened, as are fish in rivers all over the world, by overfishing, pollution and development, including major dam projects.
The Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) may be the first to disappear from the river, he said. The few that remain can be spotted now only in central Cambodia and here, just below the Golden Triangle, where northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.
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