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Living Treasure: Jullien's Golden Carp

The Mekong River is home to many imperiled living treasures: unique fish species of great cultural, economic, and conservation value that are now endangered. The Jullien's Golden Carp (Probarbus jullieni) and its cousin the Thicklipped Barb (Probarbus labeamajor) are some of the largest freshwater fishes in Southeast Asia, and are both listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Though these fishes were once found throughout Southeast Asia, the Mekong basin is the last remaining location of relatively robust populations. Jullien's Golden Carp were reported as "extremely abundant" in the Mekong as recently as 1989, but both species are believed to have declined by more than 50% throughout their ranges (Baird 2011, Hogan and Baird 2011). Historical reports tell of these fishes reaching a hefty 60 kg (132 pounds); however, individuals caught in recent years weigh in closer to 20 kg (44 pounds) (Hogan and Baird 2011).

A number of factors have likely contributed to these fishes' decline, including alterations to their freshwater habitat and increased gill net fishing. Despite their international conservation status, demand for these favorite food fishes remains high: their large size and succulent flesh make them highly sought after. While fishers catch individuals of all sizes, the larger bodied specimens are the most commercially valuable, and egg-bearing females fetch the highest prices at market. Because of the higher value of breeding fish, fishers in northern Lao PDR target the spawning areas of these fishes during the December-February spawning season, using large-mesh gill nets designed to catch Probarbus species. Harvesting fish before they can reproduce has had devastating effects on their populations. Dams pose another concern, as they may impede movement to spawning grounds. Adult fish need deep pool habitats, but cannot reproduce in reservoirs (Baird 2006).

In addition to their IUCN Red List endangered classification, both species of Probarbus are ostensibly protected under Lao fisheries law, which allows for local consumption of the species outside of their spawning season, but prohibits their sale (Baird 2006). Despite this, large individuals of both species are regularly seen in markets in district and provincial capitals. FISHBIO staff observed Jullien's Golden Carp for sale in Lao PDR at a large market in the capital of Vientiane, as well as at a remote roadside stall while making a field visit to Bolikhamxay province. Of particular concern, we spotted a mature female fish for sale that was ready to lay eggs (top photo). FISHBIO is currently working to advance the study and conservation of Probarbus populations.

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Ant snacks 

During Southeast Asia's dry season in January when the mango is ready to fruit, many people in the Mekong region rotate their dinner menu from wild fish to ant eggs. This is especially common for people in Lao PDR who depend on natural resources for food. Ant eggs are predominantly found in wetland areas with many trees or shrubs. Local people are experienced at finding ant nests and collecting the eggs, as well as simple ways to protect themselves from ant bites. After finding an ant nest, they first use the tip of a bamboo branch to check the quality of the nest, making sure the eggs are large and numerous enough to harvest, and have not yet developed into larvae. If the harvester approves of the eggs' quality, he or she will hold a bamboo basket or water bucket hanging on a stick and shake the ant's nest until the eggs fall into the basket.


Many ants will also fall into the basket or bucket with the eggs and may try to attack the harvester. One way to thwart them is to shake the basket repeatedly while walking. Another is placing branches into the basket, letting the ants walk on them, then... Read more>
IN THE NEWS: Recent stories you might have missed...
Empty nets on the Mekong
New York Times 

our attempts at fishing in the Mekong River had produced meager results, which was somewhat puzzling because the Mekong produces the largest harvest of freshwater fish in the world, by far. As a father, this was frustrating; catching fish was the top priority of my 10-year old son, Luca, and I was determined that he fulfill that goal. But as a river ecologist, our low success rate had me curious about the status of fish populations in this river... Read more> 

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Climate Central  

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20,210 pages in sneak peek of Delta tunnel plan's EIR
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Northern pikeminnow reward fishery underway in Columbia River  
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Each year northern pikeminnow eat millions of young salmon and steelhead.

For the past 21 years, the Bonneville Power Association's sport-reward... Read more >   
Fish food fight? Don't count the little guy out
Live Science

When fish fight over food, don't count the little guy out. In hostile situations, a fish's personality - including how aggressive it acts - may matter more than size, according to new research. The researchers from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and Texas A&M University in College Station studied how small fish managed relative to their larger peers when it came time for feeding. They found that small fish that exhibited aggressive... Read more >