A Monster Fish Makes a Rare Appearance in Cambodia

Fishers catch and release a critically endangered Mekong giant catfish.

Zeb Hogan, a biologist and host of Nat Geo Wild show 'Monster Fish,' helped Cambodian fisheries officials tag and release the rare Mekong giant catfish after it was caught in the Mekong River on Nov. 9. (Photo: University of Nevada, Reno)

Nov 14, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Fishers near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, brought a monster to the surface this past week—catching and releasing a rarely seen Mekong giant catfish nearly seven feet long.

(Photo: Zeb Hogan/World Wildlife Fund)

It was the first reported catch this year of the freshwater monster, known as the “royal fish” because of its size.

“This is really extraordinary,” Zeb Hogan, a University of Nevada, Reno, biologist who has studied the species for almost 20 years, said in a statement. “It confirms that this incredibly rare and critically endangered freshwater species still occurs in Cambodia and it is still making its annual spawning migration out of the Tonle Sap Lake and into the Mekong River.”

Hogan was on-site when the catch was made. “At just under seven feet in length, the catfish was larger than any catfish that has been caught in the U.S. in the last 100 years,” he said. “What was really incredible is that I happened to be visiting at the time of the catch. It’s a one-in-a-million opportunity.”

Hogan and a team of officials from the Cambodian Department of Fisheries tagged the fish to track its movement and then guided it to the middle of the river for release.

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Hogan said he swam down with the fish some 10 feet deep, monitoring its condition along the way.

“Swimming with the fish was incredible as always,” said Hogan, who has swum with dozens of huge fish as part of his research. “This particular fish was in better shape, not as injured than most, so that makes me optimistic it will survive.”

Mekong catfish were once caught by the thousands in the lower Mekong, but scientists estimate the total population of the species has decreased by around 90 percent in the last decade and could be down to a few 100 individuals.

“The survival of every fish makes a difference; survival of migrating adults is especially important,” Hogan said. “With ongoing changes happening on the Mekong River that may cause the extinction of the giant catfish, measures to study and protect these fish are more important than ever.”