Thai fishermen have come up with an unusual way to celebrate their king's 60th year on the throne. They agreed to stop netting the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish.
In a ceremony on Friday evening honoring King Bhumibol Adulyadej, nearly 60 fishermen in the northern city of Chiang Khong committed themselves to a voluntary ban on catching Southeast Asia's largest and rarest fish -- and will be given 20,000 baht (US$520) for each giant catfish net they surrender.
"In honor of the king, the fishermen will agree to stop fishing for catfish and hand the nets over to the monks," said Tuenjai Deetes, senator for Chiang Khong, near the border with Laos.
"This is a great commitment from fishermen. Every fisherman will stop fishing giant catfish forever," the senator said.
The World Conservation Union listed the Mekong giant catfish as critically endangered in 2003 after research showed its numbers had fallen by at least 80 percent in the past 13 years. It is also listed as critically endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, or CITES.
The Mekong River, which demarcates the Thai-Laotian border, is one of the few areas where the catfish are commercially fished, although conservationists say that only a few are caught each year.
Last year, fishermen near Chiang Khong netted a 293kg catfish believed to be one of the largest freshwater fish ever caught.
Conservationists have hailed the voluntary ban as a first step toward saving the giant catfish from extinction -- numbers of the fish have been declining largely because of dams and environmental damage along the Mekong River.