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. Ed

    The same issue was brought up when the Tenn-Tom (Tennessee-Tom Bigby) project was planned and built. The catfish below those big dams are bigger than ever and the area has become a great place to take your salt water rig and try to catch a 600 pound catfish. Of course, the area they're talking about isn't in our back yard, so everybody can complain about the dams they're planning, since it won't affect us one way or the other.

    July 28, 2010 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Did Zombies Eat Everyone's Brain?

      Did you the article were it talks about these fish spawning?
      Different species of fish and their sub classes have very different needs.
      This catfish spawns much like salmon do in the North West and even up north in the
      Mid West.
      Do you know what spawning is?

      July 28, 2010 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. SteveM

    Of course, back home in Texas, we'd throw one that size back. Just a baby, needs to grow up. Might use iit for bait though....

    July 28, 2010 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |


    July 28, 2010 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. h4x354x0r

    There are less damaging ways of getting electricity from rivers. There are turbines that sit in the free flowing river to generate electricity, without needing to build a dam. This "eco energy vs. wildlife" thing is often a false dichotomy.

    July 28, 2010 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  5. Craig

    Why does the World Wrestling Federation care about giant catfish? That makes no sense.

    July 28, 2010 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  6. Did Zombies Eat Everyone's Brain?

    Energy + Consumption = Profit

    Profit + Idiots = Wounded Planet

    Frak the consumption, and the profit, I would rather have the planet!
    Who with half a brain will really give a hoot about consumption, and profit, if our
    home becomes to toxic to live upon?

    Next time you ditz the tree huggers you should
    remember basic environmental ecology.
    Trees supply us with most of the oxygen we need to breath.

    No Oxygen + No Breathing = Extinction of the Human Race

    It literally amazes me how many people on
    this planet simply can’t add the facts together.
    Score one for the global education systems and parents that raised idiots,
    and all the parents and teachers raising all the future idiots!

    Score a big one for all the governments that do nothing but suck the people dry
    while wallowing in a false luxury bought off the blood of others and the back of the
    only planet we have to call home. Bloody Brilliant!
    Seems the human animal is really just de evolving
    into bigger twits with every turn of the globe.

    July 28, 2010 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  7. Josh

    Who cares about catfish when there are people without power?

    July 28, 2010 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  8. tron777

    for esmen, you should try to hook them in the mouth.

    July 28, 2010 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. tron777

    for esmenhook them in the mouth.

    July 28, 2010 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  10. Inco

    Why can't a swim pipe be built into the dam that maintains pressure to allow the fish to bypass the dams? They swim upstream anyway, and something tells me they have the muscle to get up with a bit of help.

    July 28, 2010 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • ER-Slopes

      I agree with an alternative of rerouting the dam But seriously who is going to submit themselves underwater build a brick wall tall and large enough to transmit to a fish 10 feet 770 pounds they would probably just go right through it Don't you think!

      July 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rimas

    Catfish? This thing looks more like a LIONFISH!

    July 28, 2010 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. Julian

    I think the underlying issue with the dam is not about the catfish, or at least not only.
    There are an estimate 60 million people dependent on the mekong river as it flows through parts of China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The fish represent a part of the economy that surrounds the river. Thus by following through on the construction of these dams, the existence of the people is threatend as well.
    Do you want to tell them then 'hey don't worry, you got no food, but we'll sell you some green electricity'?

    On the one hand you got the international community that needs to push China further in dealing with the ecological hazards it is creating by relying on fossil fuels, but deal with it in a way that doesn't cause more damanage somewhere else. I'm all for renewable energy in China, but renewable energy requires in its very essence to be sustainable, this is not way.

    July 28, 2010 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  13. andy c

    I think the point of the article was to move the dams to another location where you would still get the benefits of hydroelectric power and allow the catfish room to move up the Mekong river to their spawning grounds. Simple solution to a complex problem. Dealing with extermination of a species and improving power distribution in Asia can be accomplished just by using alternate locations.

    July 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mick Mack

    Come on...computer enhanced!

    July 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. bob

    china is the worst!

    July 28, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
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