Giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas)

Giant catfish after capture, prior to safe release
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Giant catfish fact file

Giant catfish description

GenusPangasianodon (1)

The giant catfish is the world’s largest freshwater fish (1). It has a whitish underside and the back and fins are grey. The eyes are located low on the head and point downwards. Whilst juveniles have barbels, adults can be distinguished from other large catfish by their reduced barbels and lack of teeth (4).

Also known as
Mekong giant catfish.
Silure De Verre Géant.
Siluro Gigante.
Length: up to 3 m (1)
up to 300 kg (1)

Giant catfish biology

A migratory species, the giant catfish is thought to move from the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia from October to December each year and into the Mekong River from which it progresses upstream into northeastern Cambodia, Laos or Thailand to spawn (1).

The giant catfish eats the vegetation growing on the river bed (3).


Giant catfish range

The giant catfish is endemic to the parts of the Mekong River basin that run through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Viet Nam and possibly Burma and China. It is primarily found in the Tonle Sap River, the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River (1).


Giant catfish habitat


Giant catfish status

The giant catfish is classified as Critically Endangered (CR A4bcde) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1). It is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (2) and on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Giant catfish threats

The giant catfish has been subject to over-fishing for many years. Catches at the beginning of the 20th century were in the thousands each year but declines have been so severe that less than ten are now caught per year (1). Habitat loss and degradation as a result of damming and the clearance of flooded forest near the Tonle Sap Lake (1) have disrupted the giant catfish’s migration, spawning, eating and breeding habits (5).


Giant catfish conservation

The giant catfish has been listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species since 1975 when it first became apparent that it had seriously declined. It occurs in a Biosphere Reserve and a RAMSAR site (for wetlands of international significance), but both fail to provide active protection. In Cambodia and Thailand it is illegal to catch the giant catfish but this legislation is not enforced. In Laos it is protected, but again, this has no practical effect (1).

Artificially spawned individuals have been released into the River Mekong since 1985, and captive breeding has been taking place since 2001 (1). The Mekong Fish Conservation Project works in cooperation with the Cambodian Department of Fisheries to conduct research and educate the public. This project has released 20 catfish into the river system since 2000 (5). Studies have provided evidence that it spawns in areas that will be impacted by the Mekong Navigation Improvement Project which plans to dredge long stretches of river and blast away areas with rapids that obstruct the passage of large ships. The project was partially underway before the reliability of the Environmental Impact Report was questioned, and the project was put on hold (6).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on this species see:

For further information on the Mekong River, see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



Fleshy projections near the mouth of some fish.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2004)
  2. Convention on Migratory Species (December, 2004)
  3. CITES (December, 2004)
  4. Fish Base (December, 2004)
  5. National Geographic (December, 2004)
  6. Negotiating River Basin Management (December, 2004)

Image credit

Giant catfish after capture, prior to safe release  
Giant catfish after capture, prior to safe release

© Jean-Francois Helias /

Jean-Francois Helias
34/13-14 City Studio
8/21 Sukhumvit 13
10110 Bangkok
Tel: (661) 846 98 94


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