Experts Convene in Cambodia to Develop Conservation Strategy to Save the Rare Mega-species
Phnom Penh, Cambodia - It’s official: a 661-pound (300-kilo) stingray discovered last year in Cambodia is the largest freshwater fish ever recorded, a Guinness World Records adjudicator announced on Tuesday, November 14, 2023.
The gargantuan ray, which weighs as much as three baby elephants, was caught by fishermen in the Mekong River in northern Cambodia in June 2022. The previous record for the largest fish species inhabiting rivers or lakes, a 646-pound catfish caught in Thailand, had remained unchallenged for nearly two decades.
Right after the remarkable catch, the fishermen contacted a team from the Wonders of the Mekong project which applies research, capacity building, and outreach to solve conservation and development challenges in the Lower Mekong River Basin, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Working alongside officials from the Cambodian Fisheries Administration’s Stung Treng provincial cantonment and the Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute of Cambodia, researchers measured the female ray, affixed an acoustic homing tag, and released her into her natural habitat. The tag aids in tracking her movements and identifying important habitats for the endangered fish.
“The successful model of government, communities, and USAID working hand-in-hand allowed us to officially measure, tag, and then release this fish, providing information that could help bring the species back from the brink,” said Zeb Hogan, project lead of Wonders of the Mekong.
Recognition of the record-breaking fish comes at a critical time for the rare species at risk of extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Scientists know very little about the giant freshwater stingray, a species whose population has dramatically declined across its Southeast Asian range.
“The Mekong River is a global biodiversity hotspot and home to more than 1,200 different species of fish, including the world’s largest freshwater stingray,” said U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy. “The United States is proud to join efforts to safeguard the creatures of the Mekong and to protect endangered species, all in the pursuit of sustaining Cambodia's abundant fisheries and livelihoods for millions of Cambodians.”
Following the Guinness announcement, the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), along with Wonders of the Mekong project, is convening a team of Cambodian and international scientists to share information that will aid in the development of tools to protect the giant stingray. At the conclusion of the meeting, researchers and policymakers will outline a conservation strategy to help guide future conservation efforts.
"Conservation of the giant stingray is consistent with our commitment to the sustainable development of Cambodia's inland aquatic resources for the country's food security and long-term prosperity," said MAFF H.E. Has Sareth. "We wholeheartedly support these important efforts to provide scientific information and technical support for the management of giant stingrays and other aquatic resources in Cambodia."
Cambodia’s Mekong River is home to more species of giant fish than any river on Earth, including two of the world's largest catfish, the Mekong giant catfish and giant pangasius, along with several carp species: the giant barb, the seven-striped barb, and the recently rediscovered giant salmon carp.
"The giant stingray is symbolic of the fate of the Mekong and how to balance river basin development with environmental stewardship so that the bountiful Mekong can continue to provide for people in the region for generations to come," said Ms. Chea Seila, program manager for Wonders of the Mekong.
Ms. Chea Seila, Project Manager, Wonders of the Mekong
+ 855 77 555 804
Dr. Zeb Hogan, Project Lead, Wonders of the Mekong
+ 1 530 219 0942