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Chasing the dragon fish

(No.9, Vol.3, Oct 2013 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)


Golden dragon fish. Photo: An huy

Raising cá rồng or cá mơn (Asian Arowana or golden dragon fish) has become a hot trend; so hot, in fact, that its fans have feverishly over-hunted it, leading to the risk that this species may soon cease to exist in the wild.
Cá rồng or cá mơn’s scientific name is Scleropages formosus. There are seven species of Scleropages distributed in Asia and Australia.
In Vietnam, there is only one known member of the Scleropages genus: Scleropages formosus. The golden dragon fish distributes at the upstream parts of the Saigon River and Dong Nai River. However, information collected recently shows no signs of this freshwater species in nature and I and Prof. Hoang Duc Dat, found Mr Tran Van Duong, who is often called Muoi Duong and lives in Hung Thuan Commune, Trang Bang District, Tay Ninh Province to teach us more about golden dragon fish. Mr Duong fished on Saigon River for a living from 1981 to 2008. As he said, before Dau Tieng lake was built, golden dragon fish was usually fished there, but after the lake was finished, the species was no more to be found. He also claimed that the last time he was able to catch this species was in 1983. He and his wife caught a pair of golden dragon fish with the weights of three and five kilos, respectively.
The golden dragon fish also distributes at the headwaters of Dong Nai River, especially in La Nga and Tri An. In 2003, the fish was found in Ma Da and Cat Tien National Park in Dong Nai Province, next to Ho Chi Minh City. I continued my survey, following fishermen to learn more about it. Since 2004, there have been many surveys at the headwaters of Dong Nai River and results showed that this species only remains in Cat Tien District. In 2011 and 2012, I and my co-workers searched in Dong Nai River, Cat Tien District. We met Mr Long, a fisherman who has fished on Dong Nai River since 1985. Mr Long told us that he hadn’t found golden dragon fish for ten years, but asserted that we could find it at the headwaters of Dong Nai River.
For years, in Vietnam, golden dragon fish has been mentioned in the red list of species that need protection to avoid being extinct. Vietnam Red List (1992) gave this species the EN (endangered) rank. In 2000 and 2007, the list continued to give this fish the EN rank.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has also listed golden dragon fish in the EN section of the IUCN Red List since 1996. This means that the red list has been ineffective in preserving a rare fish which has been publicly sold as a pet for 17 years.
*Zoologist Nguyen Xuan Dong works at Institute of Tropical Biology in Ho Chi Minh City

The golden dragon fish is called king fish by pet fish fans. Most golden dragon fish sold as a pet are imported and might cost thousands of US dollars.
The golden dragon fish is highly valued by pet fans not only because they are beautiful but also they are believed to bring prosperity.
Fans of golden dragon pet fish have formed societies in some cities in Vietnam.
(Source: Vnexpress and Dat Viet Newspaper)

By Nguyen Xuan Dong*
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