Video: Anglers in Cambodia catch the largest freshwater fish of all time

On June 13, Cambodian fisherman Mole Thun accidentally introduced the largest freshwater fish ever caught and recorded. Giant freshwater stingray (Urogymnus polylepis) is an elusive species that scientists don’t know much about. This is exactly why Dr. Zep Hogan and the Mekong Wonders research team are studying this and many other species of freshwater megafauna that inhabit the Great Mekong River.

Researchers in the area were installing underwater receivers to track migrating fish in the river when Thon caught the stingray. The team was in contact with local fishermen in case such a situation occurred and obtained a fish weighing site.

The massive beam weighed 661 pounds and measured 13 feet from snout to tail. There are reports of an ancient fish reaching 16.5 feet in length and weighing more than 1,300 pounds, but these claims have not been verified. Fishermen who mistakenly associate with these giant fish have their boats capsized from its powerful drag. Although this giant behemoth does not usually pose much danger to humans, it does have a poisonous thorn at the end of its tail. Like a wide head, the blade can easily pierce the skin and even the bone, introducing poison into the fresh wound. This particular specimen broke its blade.

Researchers have safely tagged and released the enormous stingray, hoping to capture data and gain knowledge about species and ecosystem that has eluded scientific study for some time. This year alone, Dr. Hogan and his research team weighed and released two giant stingrays weighing more than 400 pounds, also caught nearby. The previous title holder for largest freshwater fish ever caught, established in 2005, also came out of the Mekong – a giant catfish caught in Thailand that weighed 646 pounds.

Dr. Hogan has followed the world’s largest freshwater fish for nearly two decades. His studies led him to the Mekong River, where deep-water basins contain some of the world’s largest freshwater species.

“In 2020, a contender for the world’s largest freshwater fish, known as the Chinese paddlefish, was declared extinct,” said Dr. Hogan. “That was very sad news, and it felt like we were going to see more of these big fish go extinct, rather than record-breaking.”

Although the freshwater giant stingray is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, it is not illegal to fish them in Cambodia. However, it’s not considered great table fare, so it’s not often targeted by anglers. As bottom-dwelling creatures that feed on shrimp, mollusks, and small fish, they are often caught bycatch from deep-water nets or hooks.

“The fact that the world’s largest freshwater fish was caught in the Mekong River is a remarkable fact,” said Dr. Hogan. “This is a densely populated area, and the river faces a lot of challenges.”

One of the biggest challenges is building “megacodes”. Huge structures prevent large fish from moving across the river and breeding, although there are aids such as fish ladders. In addition, the giant dams also promise to uproot small villages, choke the region’s food supply, and increase the dramatic effects of floods and droughts.

The Cambodian government recently approved the construction of a 1,400-megawatt hydroelectric dam on the Mekong River, north of Stung Treng. “It would mean loss of fisheries, loss of biodiversity, loss of livelihoods,” said Dr. Hogan. “It will change this area forever.”

Thon caught this particularly impressive specimen in a deep area of ​​the Mekong River, where pools can be up to 90 meters deep. The river is one of the few habitats in the world that can sustain large freshwater organisms of this caliber, but it is unknown how long it will be able to do so with overfishing, pollution and dam building.

“The world’s largest fish are under threat of extinction. They are a highly valued species. They take a long time to mature. So if they are caught before they are mature, they will not have a chance to reproduce,” said Dr. Hogan. “A lot of these big fish are migratory, so they need large areas to survive.”

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