World’s Largest Freshwater Fish Under Threat From Planned Dam

The world’s largest freshwater fish may go extinct as a result of the environmental impact of the newest dam proposed on the Mekong, according to documents released ahead of a consultation that began on Wednesday.

The Mekong giant catfish, which can grow up to 3 meters long and 300 kg in weight, is critically endangered with their populations decimated by overfishing, dams and habitat destruction, according to the environmental organization WWF.

Plants line the bank of the Mekong River near the Pak Beng dam site. (International Rivers)

The building of a massive 912-megawatt dam in their habitat would put them under further strain, warned a technical review posted to the website of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) ahead of a forum on Pak Beng dam in northern Laos.

“The Mekong giant catfish…is likely to be seriously and negatively impacted by the Pak Beng hydropower project…eventually or possibly leading to extinction,” the review says.

Further impacts on fisheries were unclear due to a lack of data on fish migrations, adds the document, which summarizes environmental impact assessments submitted by the dam’s developer, China Datang Overseas Investment Company.

The summary was presented on Wednesday in Vientiane.

By the end of next month, the MRC wants to have identified “knowledge gaps” about Pak Beng’s environmental impacts, but it is unclear how issues—such as effects on fish migration—will be addressed before construction starts.

The full consultation is expected to be completed by June.

The last two consultations conducted by the MRC—on the Xayaburi dam, built just downstream of Pak Beng, and the Don Sahong dam, now under construction on the Cambodia-Laos border—proved controversial.

In both cases, consultations over potential impacts remained inconclusive after six months, yet the Laotian government and the developers went ahead with construction.

Speaking of the Pak Beng dam, Pham Tuan Phan, CEO of the MRC, said: “Someone asked me, ‘The decision has clearly been made to build the dam, so what is the point of engaging in the program?’”

“Don’t underestimate the prior consultation program.”

Pianporn Deetes, the Thailand and Burma campaign director for International Rivers, an NGO, said the potential damage of the dam was devastating.

“Who are we to destroy all this without a proper impact assessment…without even understanding the burden of what it is that we would lose?”

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