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Pattaya Daily News

21 July 2008 :: 15:07:00 pm 43289

On The Quest for Megafish in The Mekong

A U.S. biologist is intent on finding the largest freshwater fish in the world. One of his main fishing grounds is the River Mekong, supposed home of the fabled Naka Dragon Fish of Thai folklore. However, the fish he?s after is one apparently recently caught by Cambodian fishermen a stingray, weighing over 1,100 pounds with wingspans of 14 feet. He's basically hoping to best the world record currently held by the Mekong giant catfish: a 646-pounder caught in Thailand, in 2005.
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American biologist, Zeb Hogan, assistant research professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, aided by ace, young Brit angler Rick Humphreys, is participating in the Megafishes Project funded by the National Geographic Society. The three-year project, which started in 2006, is attempting to document and protect freshwater monster fish weighing 200 pounds and over, or those with a length in excess of 6 feet. Hogan’s quest will take him to 14 freshwater systems on six continents, including the Mekong, Nile, Mississippi and Amazon rivers.

Time is running out, however, due to pollution, overfishing and dam building. The monster Chinese paddlefish and the dog-eating catfish in Southeast Asia are on the verge of extinction. The Three Gorges Dam built on the Yangtze River, is most probably the reason why no Chinese paddlefish have been caught since 2003.

“Of the two dozen or so species of giant fish, about 70% are threatened with extinction,” says Hogan. But timely activity on his part could well help protect the species.

Hogan is a devotee, who forsakes his lecturing and research to spend as much time as possible in his megafish quest. He’s concentrating on Asia because of its extremely large, wide and deep rivers, drawn by the fishermen’s tales of monster fish. So far he has journeyed to Mongolia in search of the taimen, to Bhutan looking for mahseer and the Mekong, where he has spent the last two years trying to find the legendary freshwater ray, the Himantura chaophraya, which supposedly haunts rivers from Thailand to Australia. This ray is an enigma, however; it was discovered 18 years ago by Scientists, and its population is unknown.

“I have so many questions about this stingray,” Hogan says. “Is it truly a freshwater species” Where does it breed What are its migratory patterns?”

His Mekong quest bore little fruit until recently, due to the flimsy nets used by the Cambodian fisherman and the ray’s proclivity for spending most of its time hidden on the river beds in search of delicacies like shrimp, crabs and mollusks to which it’s somewhat partial.

Hogan’s luck changed, however, when he came across Humphreys, who works for FishSiam in Thailand, and persuaded him to act as his guide. This company uses professional big game fish equipment and has been successful in catching some pretty large rays. Humphreys works as part of a two-man team with his partner, Wuttichai Khuensuwan. The two, over the past year, have caught 40 rays on the Bang Pakong and Mae Klong Rivers, the largest being 485 pounds.

Only recently, Wirat Moungnum, another team member, caught a lesser version, a rare giant freshwater stingray that weighing 44 pounds, with a 5-foot-long tail, tipped with a venomous barb, but Humphreys knows from personal experience that there are rays at least ten times bigger, if not more. Catching rays, though, is hardly a safe pursuit. One of Humphreys’ team was recently stung on the leg which gave him a pain unlike any he’d experienced before. You have to neutralise the tail before it can be incapacitated.

The measly 44 pound specimen caught recently, however, is soon bettered by one with a 12-foot-long tail which was caught in the Mae Klong River, not from Bangkok, which Hogan saw as a good sign being so near a major city, meaning the species is resisting pollution.

He intends to conduct a two-year study to catch and tag 20 to 30 more rays to better understand their movements as soon as he has the Thai government’s permission. He’s also hoping to persuade the Thai and Lao authorities to limit total ray catches to four a year.

Hogan’s efforts are supported by Chavalit Vidthayanon, a freshwater biologist at the World Wildlife Fund, who four years ago, discovered a smaller ray species in Thailand. Chavalit agreed that more research was necessary. He said: “We need to know its exact population and habitat so we can work on conservation and find ways to better protect them.”

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Thailand News

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