Search Is on for World's Biggest Freshwater Fish

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The disappearance of such species is a potentially serious problem for rural peoples that depend on fish for protein, according to the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. The environmental nonprofit recently reported that depleted freshwater fish stocks in Cambodia have led to violent conflict between fishers.

Elsewhere, the WWF- and National Geographic Society-sponsored big-fish project will focus on species such as the Amazon's arapaima (Arapaima gigas), the largest fish in South America, and the Yangtze River's Chinese paddlefish (Psephurus gladius), a critically endangered species plagued by overfishing and the construction of dams that block migrations and isolate populations.

Dambuilding has similarly impacted on the Tigris salmon (Barbus esocinus) of Syria, Iraq, and Iran, according to Brian Coad, an ichthyologist (fish biologist) at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.

The fish is actually a type of huge carp, Coad said. He noted that populations of Tigris salmon are also severely threatened by water extraction, pollution, and fishing with explosives and poisons.

In Mongolia the taimen (Hucho taimen), a true member of the salmon family, is under pressure from illegal poaching and degraded water quality caused by logging and mining operations. (See related story.)

Jake Vander Zanden, a freshwater ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said the taimen's "range includes the former Soviet Union and Mongolia, though it is now quite rare or [exterminated] throughout much of its historical range."

Zeb Hogan says time is now running out for this and other charismatic species. "Due to the precarious state of populations of large freshwater fish, this new project is a race against the clock," he said. "We must identify and protect these aquatic giants before they are gone forever."

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