Endemic to the lower half of the Mekong river, this catfish is in danger of extinction due to overfishing, as well as the decrease in water quality due to development and upstream damming. The current IUCN Red List for fishes classes the species as Critically Endangered; while the number of individuals living in the wild is not known, catch data indicate that the population has fallen by 80 percent in the last 13 years.It is also listed in Appendix I of CITES, banning international trade.
In The Anthropologists’ Cookbook (1977) Jessica Kuper noted the importance of the pa beuk to the Lao people and remarked, “In times gone by, this huge fish, which is found only in the Mekong, was fairly plentiful; but in the last few years the number taken annually has dwindled to forty, thirty or twenty, and perhaps in 1976 even fewer. This is sad, as it is a noble fish and a mysterious one, revered by the Lao.” (p167)
Fishing for the Mekong giant catfish is illegal in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, but the bans appear to be ineffective, with the fish continuing to be caught in all three countries. However, in recognition of the threat to the species, nearly 60 Thai fishermen agreed to stop catching the endangered catfish in June 2006, to mark the 60th anniversary of Bhumibol Adulyadej‘s accession to the throne of Thailand.
Filed under: CRITICALLY ENDANGERED