Vietnamese restaurants are openly violating the law to include a critically endangered giant catfish on their menus.
Time’s Running out for the Mekong Giant Catfish
A Mekong giant catfish is advertised in the Facebook page of Lang Nghe restaurant in Da Nang.
An expose by Rachel Nuwer in the National Geographic documents the precarious situation that the Mekong River’s giant catfish faces as a result of willful violations by both restaurant owners and their customers in Vietnam.
Scores of Vietnamese restaurants are advertising and serving the critically endangered fish as their specialty, in blatant disregard of the country’s wildlife protection regulations and with apparent immunity, the report says.
The giant catfish, which can measure up to three meters (10 feet) and weigh as much as 300 kg (650 pounds), are being smuggled from Cambodia to restaurants across Vietnam, the report says.
It notes that while these fish are traditionally considered sacred in Cambodia, and fishermen usually consider it bad luck to net one, many are finding it difficult to resist the lure of big money being offered by Vietnamese businesses at more than $60 to $90 a kilo.
Driving demand for this fish in Vietnamese restaurants is the belief among middle-aged men that its meat brings good luck and boosts libido.
Since 2008, several species of megafish including the giant catfish have been on the conservation red list and protected by Vietnamese law.
While the penal code of Cambodia fails to specify punishment for poaching imperiled fish, those accused of illegal exploitation of those species in Vietnam can receive hefty fines of up to $88,000 for individuals and $658,000 for businesses, even sentenced to 15 years in jail.
However, the law is not being implemented effectively and restaurant owners continue to list this endangered fish on their menu, with a restaurant in Da Nang, Lang Nghe, even showing videos of a giant catfish being cooked.
The National Geographic report says that this restaurant consumes at least six fish a month, and is not shy of posting eye-catching advertisements on social media as well as videos showing how these fish will be prepared for various “tasty dishes.”
Lang Nghe restaurant features the giant fish on its menu with prices of VND1.9 million ($82.44) a kilogram for a group of six.
“The new trade seems to be very pervasive and growing very rapidly,” the NatGeo report quoted Zeb Hogan, an explorer who has studied the Mekong River system for more than 10 years, as saying.
Those who are running restaurants are making efforts to broaden their connections with the Cambodian market to find a stable source of giant catfish.
“The owner even has relatives in Cambodia to find and source the fish for him,” said a waiter at the Hang Duong Quan Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, as cited by NatGeo.
“Serving giant fish is a way for them to stand out from their competitors and make more money. It’s all about greed,” Rachel Nuwer told VnExpress International.
Vietnamese traders in Cambodia are key players in facilitating this illegal trade, and fish are being smuggled over Vietnamese borders and, in some cases, being flown on Vietnamese airlines, she said.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has several times called for conservation of the rare giant catfish and demanded that the Vietnamese government do more to save the endangered species from extinction.
Thus far, their pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears, affirming Vietnam’s reputation for weak implementation of wildlife protection laws.

Theo VnExpress