By Sean Augustin
KUALA TERENGGANU, MALAYSIA - Several quarters are asking the state government to scrap the idea of importing the Mekong Giant Catfish into the Kenyir lake as part of its plans to replenish the fish population.
Universiti Malaysia Terengganu Faculty of Agro Technology lecturer Prof Mohd Azmi Ambak said Kenyir lake was famous for its rich variety of kelah fish and importing a foreign species would mean running a risk of it out-competing the local species for food, or the catfish itself could eat the other species.
"I think it's a terrible idea. We don't know if the catfish is an invasive species.
"I would advise the state government against implementing this idea. We need to preserve the local diversity."
Azmi said there were about 10 to 20 different varieties of kelah, some of which are endemic to Terengganu.
On Wednesday, Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said had revealed the plan in view of the upcoming Kenyir Lake Cup fishing competition next month.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia president S.M. Mohd Idris Salam has also slammed the idea, adding the organisation had always been concerned that alien fish species were being dumped into the waterways which threaten the lives of indigenous fish species.
Factors like environmental pollution and destruction of natural habitats as well as ecosystems have made it easier for non-native species brought to Malaysia to establish itself.
"They become invasive as many of them are "colonising" species that benefit from the radically reduced competition that follows habitat degradation or destruction.
"We really hope the state government would reconsider," he said.
The Malaysian Nature Society echoed the same sentiment, adding any initiative to replenish lakes and rivers should focus on conserving and restoring the population of native fish species rather than importing alien fish species.
Its president, Tan Sri Dr Salleh Mohd Nor, said based on the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), (invasive) alien species has been identified as one of the keys to biodiversity extinction.
"Has the Terengganu state government conducted a thorough study to identify potential impact of the introduction of the Mekong Giant Catfish into Kenyir Lake and its native fish fauna?
"Efforts in Indochina and Thailand, where the species originate from, have also shown that the species does not breed well in enclosed water bodies such as ponds and lakes.
"This would mean that the state government would have to keep spending money to restock the lake," he said, adding that while the society lauds the efforts to replenish fish population in Kenyir Lake, it strongly urged the state government to rethink this idea and to focus on native fish species to further help conserve freshwater biodiversity.
The Mekong Giant Catfish or the Pangasianodon gigas, which is endemic to the lower half of the Mekong River is believed to be able to grow up to three metres in length and reach a mass of 150 to 200kg in only six years.