There could be some confusion between the biggest freshwater fish, and the biggest freshwater fish ever caught. The biggest freshwater fish caught can possibly outweigh the biggest species of freshwater fish.
Russia’s beluga sturgeon, also known as huso huso, is the biggest freshwater known fish in the world according to the Pan-European Action Plan for Sturgeons. Beluga sturgeon grow up to 26 feet long, can weigh over 3,500 pounds, and can live over 100 years.
Beluga sturgeon are endemic to and live between Europe and Asia in the Black, Azov, and Caspian seas and the rivers feeding them. They are among the oldest fish in the world, and we can trace them back 250 million years. This means they were here with the dinosaurs.
Leonardo Congiu, an associate professor of ecology at the University of Padova in Italy, theorizes that beluga sturgeon survived those millions of years because larger sturgeon individuals had greater reproductive success and large females could generate more eggs. Plus, their great size helped them escape predators and afforded them the ability to catch vast amounts of prey.
Beluga sturgeon are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, the category for species most at risk of extinction. Caviar lovers prize adult females for their fish eggs, which are sold as caviar and valued at more than $3,500 a pound, according to the IUCN.
Beluga Sturgeon have few predators, and humans are their largest threat. To combat their extinction, a sustainable farming beluga sturgeon industry has grown up. But, Dr Phaedra Doukakis, a member of IUCN’s Sturgeon Specialist Group, reports, “That even if maximum protections were put in place for wild beluga sturgeon, it would take a long time for younger individuals to mature and reach their maximum lengths”.
One large female beluga sturgeon can carry several hundred pounds of caviar. It is one of the most valuable fish on earth. Even though this fish has been given limited legal protection in many areas, its numbers are decreasing everywhere that it lives. It is completely gone from several seas and rivers it used to inhabit.
The beluga sturgeon has limited protection in many areas, but its numbers continue to decrease. It is highly vulnerable to extinction across its entire range. Without further protection and enforcement of existing efforts, one of the largest, most interesting fish in the world could be gone forever. Scientists fear beluga sturgeon are critically endangered.
Where Was the Largest Freshwater Fish Caught?
The Mekong River in Cambodia is famous for giant catfish that can grow up to 440 pounds in six years. Zeb Hogan, director of the Wonders of the Mekong project, reported, “The Mekong is the only place in the world where these giant fish are found.” However, the Mekong River is also home to giant stingrays.
The biggest freshwater fish ever caught on rod and reel is a 660 pound female stingray over 13 feet long in Cambodia’s Mekong River. Fisherman Moul Thun, 42, now holds the world record for catching the biggest freshwater fish in the world on June 13, 2022.
Thun hooked the female stingray near a remote island in the Stung Teng Province on the Mekong River. The stingray broke the previous record for the largest freshwater fish, a 646-pound Mekong giant catfish that was discovered in 2005 in northern Thailand.
The Mekong waterways face the environmental challenges of overfishing, pollution, and dam building. This ray is not only a record holder and breaker, its size is a hopeful sign for the Mekong River. There is a catch and release policy for certain fish in the Mekong River. This stingray was released after scientists had a good look at her.
The U.S. Agency for International Development funds the Wonders of the Mekong project partners with the Cambodian Fishers Administration and works to improve conservation efforts on the Mekong. They paid Thun $600, the market price for a stingray that size.
Hogan said, “…that finding a fish of this size offers an indication that this stretch of the Mekong River, the longest remaining free-flowing section, is still relatively healthy.” When Thun saw the size of his catch, he contacted scientists working on the project.
The scientists documented the fish and tagged it with a tracking device before releasing it back into the waterway in order to study it. The Mekong is one of the largest and most productive rivers in the world. Many of the largest freshwater fish call the Mekong River their home.
The Mekong River supports giant freshwater stingray, giant barb, giant pangasius, seven-striped bard, giant wallago catfish, and goonch catfish, along with freshwater dolphins and giant softshell turtles. Most of these species’ populations have severely decreased throughout Asia by 95% since 1970.
The Mekong River flows through six countries: Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. New dams fragment habitats, lead to overfishing, and threaten the giant Mekong species. The Mekong is an old, large river, which allows enough time for evolution to produce an extra-large fish. These giant species need space and food.
The Largest Freshwater Fish in America
A bunch of fish tales are told around a cleaning station at many a fish camp in the U.S. The Americas are a collection of 35 countries covering the continents of North and South America. Which American country has the largest freshwater fish, though?
The white sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish in North America, is found in rivers and streams off of the Pacific coastal waters in rivers and streams from Ensenada, Mexico, to Alaska, and across the northern U.S. The arapaima is the largest freshwater fish in the Amazon basin of Brazil.
The white sturgeon can grow up to 12 to 20 feet long and weigh nearly 2,000 pounds. White sturgeon have been around for 200 million years, have a lifespan of 60 t0 70 years, and their appearance has not changed in 175 millions years. They have a lifespan of 80 to 100 years.
Arapaima, also found in Peru and Guyana, were once capable of growing up to a length of 10 feet long and a weight of 300 pounds. Today, they grow to about six feet long and 275 pounds. Arapaima can breathe air and survive up to 24 hours out of water. They have been on earth 23 million years and can live up to 20 years.
Photo by Максим Яковлєв – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67084661