11 July 2007: CMS Appointed Councillor for Fish
Zeb Hogan embarked this spring on a 3 year Megafish project
to Thailand to conserve megafish in the rivers and lakes
in South East Asia. The project is supported by the National
Geographic Society. The Mekong is the world’s richest
river of its size in biodiversity and one of the most
threatened examples of natural heritage.
As part of Zeb Hogan’s innovative scientific approach,
a Giant Catfish was tagged to study its migratory patterns
and to locate its spawning area. The Mekong is now considered
to be critical habitat. While this fish species is threatened
with extinction, scientists have not yet had a chance
to become acquainted with the species. Spawning areas
are still unknown as well as ecology and taxonomy.
CMS Executive Secretary Robert Hepworth emphasized the
vital importance of Hogan’s mission: “The
flagship species that the Megafish Project focuses on
can catch the imagination and interest of the public and
of policy makers. The project’s ecosystem approach
ensures direct effects on broader species and habitat
conservation. The Convention on Migratory Species fully
supports this project.”
The critically endangered Giant Catfish is listed on
Appendix I of the Convention. Other large fish species
are at risk too. Over fishing and habitat degradation
are traditional threats to any aquatic species. In the
Mekong River Delta population density, industrial waste
and boat traffic are typical threats to river species
and build up even more pressure. In addition dams are
obstacles to this highly migratory fish species and pose
a threat to fish biodiversity.
Freshwater fish are especially vulnerable: they reproduce
very slowly and might not reach maturity in a confined
habitat. Once habitat degradation has started, it is impossible
for the species to migrate to another.
Zeb Hogan warns that the Giant Catfish might suffer the
same fate as the Chinese River Dolphin. Not a single specimen
of this dolphin species was spotted during an expedition
on the Yangtze River that lasted six weeks at the end
of 2006. Now the Giant Catfish might become extinct before
scientists have a chance to study them.
The future of the species depends on community acceptance
and finance. Hogan deplores the lack of funding for the
protection of large fish species and to study the impact
of commercial fisheries. The strong focus on climate change
worldwide diverted funding previously allocated for the
Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Conversation and Sustainable
Use Programme. Zeb Hogan stresses that a major responsibility
lies with decision makers.
“The species and ecosystems concerned cannot be
saved without a much greater level of awareness and support,
both of local communities and of world forces. Only a
high level of international cooperation and political
will, supported by broad public concern, has a chance
of overcoming the problems these endangered species are
facing and reversing the dramatic downward trends observed”,
agrees Robert Hepworth.
Dr Zeb Hogan won the UNEP/CMS Thesis Award 2005 for
his PhD project on the Mekong Giant Catfish. The CMS Secretariat
promotes this Award, which is sponsored funded by National
Geographic Germany and Lufthansa to encourage scientific
research and conservation of migratory species.