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
soundoff (163 Responses)
  1. Reality

    I wouldn't worry about it. The dang things are probably already in the Great Lakes, just like every other friggen invasive species of fish, mullusk or cephlapod. Heck we even have Asian Emeral Ash Borers destroying evey single ash tree in S.E. Michigan. Dead trees as far as the eye can see.

    July 28, 2010 at 7:36 am | Report abuse |
  2. BOB


    Sad for the fish, but if the dams aren't built, then people will generate power some other way, probably with fossil fuels. Which means the choice is between the fish suffering now, or the whole world suffering later.

    Jeez, dude. Did you read the article? The dams could be built on tributaries that would supply the needed power. Glad you are all having fun with this.

    And then there's the guy that thinks WWF is supposed to be saving lives because it is a non-profit.

    Shouldn't you people be in some kind of summer school?

    July 28, 2010 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. julie

    dear people

    do you know that giant cat fish do eat people the goonch in the himalayas and wels catfish also they are disappearing so please show respect for these giant fish if dams go up they would die. i prefer cat fish to humans every time what ever we touch we destroy!

    July 28, 2010 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    Hasn't anyone looked at what the dams on the Mississippi have done to every aspect of the river? From failed flood control to reduction of delta-replenishing sediments, it has been an ecological disaster. There has got to be a better way. Unfortunately nobody learns from history, much less takes a good hard look at what' s happening now.

    July 28, 2010 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
  5. movieman1

    God, some of the comments here! To those people, I say "Pull your head outta your butt!" Haven't learned anything about screwing around with the ecology????? Look in the Gulf for proof. We all only "rent" space on this planet: everybody and everything has to live here. These fish also provide a food source and a way of living for people in that area. Maybe the solution is less people in the area rather than moving everything out to make room for more people. Whats going to happen when we don't have anything that we can build on except people?????? Find another way! Until then - clean up the Gulf

    July 28, 2010 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. Brett

    Why do people always say "if we used less money for weapons and more towards finding an energy source then the world would be a better place" and blah blah blah. Why do we think that's true? We haven't found a solution for pollution and global warming yet, and the solutions we do have aren't being used. For example, look at the Smart Car. It's fuel-efficient, it's green, and it's resource-friendly. But no one owns them because they aren't fashionable.

    I think it's time for us to accept the fact that the world is made up of idiots who would rather have nice things now than ensure a long life for their children's children by taking care of the environment. Advances against global warming and fossil fuel depletion aren't going to help against SUV's and Lysol cans.

    Save the catfish? Who gives a DAM (lol, pun intended)? If we're going down, they're coming down with us.

    July 28, 2010 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. Steve

    LOL, the fish isn't that big, aren't the guys in this picture usually 4 feet tall anyway? Hahahahaha

    July 28, 2010 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
  8. John777

    Funny how many of you bash the tree huggers. That is until you find out your wife has breast cancer from polution or you kid has brain tumor from chemicals some company dumped into the ground water. Male and female invertility is on the rise in this country and many suspect that it is due to pollutants. I cut out processed foods, cold cuts (sodium nitrate) and started eating organic. Does it work? Just ask my wife 🙂 and I am not a young guy. So do you really want to trade your health and your manhood for an ipad and a big screen TV?

    July 28, 2010 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. mrbusy

    when do you guys find time to post these meandering comments. Its nuts!

    July 28, 2010 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. gatortarian

    Yes save the fish, screw the impoverished people of SE Asia. You can't build nuke plants, coal plants, oil plants and now you can't have hydro power either. The way the poor live in Laos and Cambodia is the way EVERYBODY should live. Got it.

    July 28, 2010 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  11. SteveM

    Sounds fishy to me. Most dams have huge catfish that live just below them. They seem to like to congregate in the area, maybe because it's usually the deepest part of the lake.

    July 28, 2010 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  12. RG

    This looks like the fish on Fred Flintstone's plate.

    July 28, 2010 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  13. EricD

    But who is going to save the POLAR BEARS!!!

    July 28, 2010 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  14. Otis

    Damsdo not have to stop fish from breeding, although poorly designed dams surely will. LOW dams which are virtually hidden and acn be buried in the stream beds do not block running water and high dams, like those being built in China and SE Asia can be made safer for fish by using fish ladders and artificial streams... but often at onsiderable expense. Perhaps a water powered fish escalator would work to carry the fish upstream.

    July 28, 2010 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  15. Byrd77

    You know what else kills these fish? People who catch them just to take their picture with them...

    July 28, 2010 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
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