Man staggers in 660-pound stingray, world’s largest freshwater fish: ‘It’s hard to understand’

According to scientists from the Southeast Asian country and the United States, the world’s largest freshwater fish, a giant ray, was caught in the Mekong River in Cambodia.

The stingray, caught on June 13, measured almost four meters (13 feet) from snout to tail and weighed a little less than 300 kilograms (660 pounds), according to a statement Monday from Wonders of the Mekong, a joint Research project by Cambodia and the USA.

In this photo provided by Wonders of the Mekong, taken on June 14, 2022, a man touches a giant freshwater stingray before it is released back into the Mekong in northeastern Stung Treng Province, Cambodia.

Chhut Chheana / AP

The previous record for a freshwater fish was a 293-kilogram Mekong giant catfish discovered in Thailand in 2005, the group said.

The stingray was caught by a local fisherman south of Stung Treng in northeast Cambodia. The fisherman alerted a nearby team of scientists from the Wonders of the Mekong project, which has publicized its conservation work in communities along the river.

The scientists arrived within hours of receiving a call after midnight with the news, and were amazed at what they saw.

“Yeah, when you see a fish that size, especially in freshwater, it’s hard to understand, so I think our entire team was stunned,” said Zeb Hogan, leader of the Wonders of Mekong, in an online interview by the University of Nevada at Reno. The university works with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and USAID, the US government’s international development agency.

Freshwater fish are defined as those that spend their entire lives in freshwater, as opposed to giant marine species like bluefin tuna and marlin, or fish that migrate between freshwater and saltwater like the giant beluga sturgeon.

Catching the stingray wasn’t just about setting a new record, he said.

“The fact that the fish can still grow this large is a hopeful sign for the Mekong,” Hogan said, noting that the waterway faces many ecological challenges.

The Mekong flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It’s home to several species of giant freshwater fish, but environmental pressures are increasing. In particular, scientists fear that a major dam-building program in recent years could seriously disrupt spawning grounds.

“Big fish are endangered worldwide. They are high quality species. They take a long time to mature. So if they’re caught before they’re fully grown, they don’t have a chance to reproduce,” Hogan said. “A lot of these big fish are migratory fish, so they need large areas to survive. They are affected by things like habitat fragmentation from dams, which are obviously affected by overfishing. For example, about 70% of the world’s giant freshwater fish are endangered, and all Mekong species.”

The team that rushed to the spot inserted a tagging device near the mighty fish’s tail that will broadcast tracking information for the next year and provide unprecedented data on the behavior of giant rays in Cambodia.

“The giant ray is a very poorly understood fish. Its name, even its scientific name, has changed several times over the past 20 years,” Hogan said. “It’s found throughout Southeast Asia, but we have almost no information about it. We know nothing about his life story. We don’t know anything about its ecology, about its migration patterns.”

Researchers say this is the fourth giant ray reported in the same area in the last two months, all females. They believe this could be a spawning hotspot for the species.

Local residents nicknamed the stingray “Boramy” or “full moon” because of its round shape and because the moon was on the horizon when it was released on June 14. The lucky fisherman was compensated at market price, meaning he received a payment of received around 600 US dollars.

The Mekong River has the third largest fish population in the world, according to the Mekong River Commission. However, overfishing, pollution and other factors have led to declining populations.

Biologist Zeb Hogan, who used to host the show “Monster Fish” on the National Geographic Channel, told Reuters the catch was “very exciting news”.

“It means that this stretch of the Mekong is still healthy. … It’s a sign of hope that these giant fish (here) are still alive,” he said.

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