Endangered giant catfish set free after capture

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A Mekong Giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) similar to the one pictured was captured by fishermen in Champassak province in southern Laos last Wednesday and successfully released back into the Mekong river by Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Department officials.

The 1.67m/5'6" long fish, which was estimated to weigh around 200kg/440lb was been accidentally caught in a fish trap in Hadsalau village in the Phonthong district on January 11, but realising the rarity of the fish, and the prohibitions surrounding the species, village authorities immediately reported the unusual catch.

Luckily prompt action by everyone involved meant that the already weakened fish was released back into the river after consultation with the provincial governor, who recommended the fishermen should be compensated and awarded certificates of honour.

The rare fish is only the third of its kind caught in the province since 2008, with the other two dying as a result of their capture.

Laws that explicitly ban the catching or trade of giant catfish are already in place, with those who break the law risking fines of three times the cost of the fish as determined by the Livestock and Fisheries Department, as well as jail sentences of between three months and a year, however it is hoped that education on the plight of the species in cases such as this will prove as effective at protecting the endangered river giant.

The Mekong Giant catfish is one of the world's largest freshwater fish species with specimens over 3m/9'10" and weighing in excess of 300kg/660lb recorded.

The species current population is unknown, but it is estimated to have declined by over 80% in the last 13 years and is now listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

It is threatened by pressure from fishing, as well as habitat loss, pollution and proposed dam building on the Mekong.

There is also concern that man made hybrids between the species and its smaller relative Pangasianodon hypophthalmus (often sold in the hobby as Iridescent Sharks) bred for aquaculture purposes may escape and interbreed with the wild fish.

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