From: Associated Press
Published June 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Four Rare Giant Catfish Released into Cambodian River after Years in Captivity

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — World Wildlife Fund conservationists on Wednesday released into the Mekong River four endangered giant catfish that had been kept in captivity for seven years.


Officials from Cambodia's Agriculture Ministry and the WWF expressed hopes that by returning the fish to their natural environment they might boost the population of the species, whose stocks have diminished by about 90 percent in just 20 years due to overfishing, dam building and navigation projects.


The Mekong giant catfish, or Pangasianodon gigas, can be found living wild only in the Mekong and its tributaries and is listed as critically endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, or CITES.


"I decided to hand over the fish to WWF because I thought they will die if I keep raising them by myself," Ing Vannath, the fishes' owner, said as conservationists released the fish into the Mekong and one of its tributaries, the Tonle Sap, in the capital Phnom Penh.


Calling the fish "an omen of luck and prosperity," Ing Vannath said he wanted to repay that good fortune "by returning them to their natural habitat to allow them the chance to swim freely," according to a WWF statement.


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The four adult fish weighed between 45-50 kilograms (99-110 pounds) each and measured about 1.5 meters (4 feet, 11 inches) in length. The species can grow up to 3 meters (10 feet) long and weigh as much as 300 kilograms (660 pounds).


Ing Vannath said he bought 13 baby catfish from a fisherman in 1997, unaware that they belonged to an endangered species. Seven of them died in his pond and he donated two to a Buddhist pagoda. He handed the remaining four to the World Wildlife Fund last year.


There is no penalty in Cambodian law for keeping the fish in captivity and the CITES provision is for guidance only.


Concerned that the fish may have trouble adapting to life in their natural habitat, the WWF fitted them with tags to warn fishermen that if caught they must be released back into the river.


"Subsequent capture and release may demonstrate that the fish have not only been able to survive but have also managed to retain their instinct to migrate to reproduce," said WWF Director-General Claude Martin.


Source: Associated Press


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