July 27th, 2010
10:41 PM ET

Group: Dams would doom Mekong River's giant catfish

The Mekong giant catfish is the world's third-largest freshwater fish species, the WWF says.


Dams proposed for the Mekong River in Southeast Asia would drive the world’s third-largest freshwater fish species to virtual extinction, according to a World Wildlife Fund report

Any of the 11 hydropower dams planned for the river’s mainstream south of China would prevent the Mekong giant catfish from migrating to its spawning grounds, the WWF said Tuesday in a news release. 

The catfish, with a maximum length and weight of nearly 10 feet and about 770 pounds, are too big to swim across such dams, said Dekila Chungyalpa, director of WWF’s Greater Mekong Program. 

If the dams prevent the car-sized fish from reaching their spawning grounds, their population will plummet, the WWF said. The portion of the river in question currently is free-flowing, according to the WWF. 

“Building [the dams] will lead to the collapse of the wild population of this iconic species,” Chungyalpa said. The catfish already are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' Red List as "critically endangered." 

The dams are proposed for spots where the river travels through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. The WWF says one in particular, planned in northern Laos, has entered a critical stage of assessment before members of the Mekong River Commission - made of representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam - make a recommendation on whether to allow its construction. 

On its website, the WWF says at least 49 other migratory species, including three other giant freshwater fish species, also are vulnerable to the development of dams on the river’s mainstream. 

The WWF says that to meet energy demands, hydropower projects could be built on certain Mekong River tributaries, as opposed to the mainstream. 

The dam in northern Laos also would reduce sediment flowing downstream to the Mekong River Delta, reducing the delta’s ability to replenish itself and lead to more coastal erosion, a statement on the WWF’s website said.

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Filed under: Animals • Cambodia • Laos • Thailand • Vietnam • World
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