Giant Mekong catfish 'faces extinction'

Fishermen with a giant Mekong catfish in Chiang Khong, Thailand (File image: WWF) The Mekong region is struggling to balance its fishing industry with the need for hydroelectric power

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The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says that dams on the Mekong River may wipe out several endangered fish species.

Among them is the Mekong giant catfish, one of the world's biggest freshwater fish.

Its bulk alone is impressive, it weighs up to 300kg (661lb) and can grow as long as 3m (10ft).

China, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia are all planning hydropower dams along the river to meet the increasing demand for electricity.

As freshwater creatures go, the Mekong giant catfish is definitely among the most charismatic.

But its low-slung eyes and down-turned mouth give it a doleful appearance which rather suits the gloomy outlook for the species.

It is already critically endangered due to overfishing and development - now the dams along the Mekong might finish it off completely.

The giant catfish is migratory and always spawns in the same place.

But the new dams might block its journeys up and down the Mekong and make it impossible to replenish the species.

The WWF report follows an assessment in May by the Mekong River Commission.

It warned that dams might result in Cambodia losing almost half its fish stocks and a million fisheries-dependent livelihoods.

At the time, a member of Cambodia's Mekong River Committee told a local newspaper that he was scared by the findings but the country needed the dams to provide electricity.

Map of the Mekong River

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