Farewell, Noble Catfish
A month ago, I took a trip that I had put off far too long. Overfishing had left the Mekong giant catfish on the brink of extinction, and it was time for me to say goodbye. So I caught the first plane to Khon Kaen, rode a bus to the eastern border of Thailand, and hired a boat for the arduous trek up the Mekong River. There, and only there, could I finally bid farewell to my beloved Pangasianodon gigas before it disappeared forever.
It would turn out to be the most difficult journey of my life—and not because I got off the bus at the wrong stop and had to hike across 37 miles of unforgiving topography. No, the true challenge came when I stood face to face with the Mekong giant catfish, a majestic creature that you’d think would be happy to meet someone on its side. You’d think that, but instead it was like, “Flibiddy-dibiddy, no big whoop,” as if my time meant nothing at all.
Was I stunned? Sure. Mad? You bet. But I had to keep in mind that it had been a rough century for the Mekong giant catfish. With dams blocking its migration routes and destroying its spawning grounds, how could I expect this fish to welcome me with open arms? It had every right to be suspicious. So I offered a heartfelt, poignant explanation of what its plight meant to me personally, of how saddened I was that it now faced oblivion. I even got a little choked up.
And I can now say from experience that few things are more unpleasant than having a catfish five-to-ten feet in length look you in the eye and basically say, “Yeah…and?”
But I had to persevere. I told the Mekong giant catfish that I valued its mythological significance in the region’s folklore. I insisted, despite my hurt feelings, that I understood how it had been badly damaged by pollution, and that it must be hard to make it through a 60-year lifespan when you’re a toothless herbivore the size of a grizzly bear and you subsist entirely on plant matter and algae. I thought it would be grateful for my keen interest.
Let me ask this: Does swishing water around with your tail count as a thank you? Because that’s all this goddamn fish did.
At this point, I fled to Phnom Penh to cool off for a while, because frankly, this freakish, 600-pound catfish was starting to piss me off. While drinking with some locals, I learned that most Cambodians view the Mekong giant catfish as standoffish pricks. One even told me that all the legends of the fish being held in high esteem by kings and Buddhist monks were meant to be sarcastic.
Well, that did it.
I hoofed it right back to the river and gave the Mekong giant catfish an earful. In very plain language I said it needed an attitude change and could start by treating me with the same respect I gave it. I expected an apology to follow, but instead its reaction was more like, “La-la-la, I’m just swimming around and I can’t hear you.”
And that’s when I snapped. Next thing I knew I was on top of that asshole fish and just whaling on it. When my fists grew tired, I grabbed a nearby critically endangered Chinese paddlefish, which turned out to make a fantastic bludgeon. Some fishermen pulled me off the catfish, but by then nothing was left of it but a lifeless mass of fins, gills, and crushed bones.
But my revenge was not complete. I then traveled to a Mekong giant catfish conservation center, where I smashed open aquariums and stomped on every fertilized egg I could find.
After that, I obviously had to get the hell out of there. I slipped across the border into Laos, where I’m currently lying low until things blow over. Then I can get back to wiping out every last goddamn one of those ungrateful pieces of shit.
My final words to the Mekong giant catfish? Don’t let the door hit your species on the way out.