Siamese Carp, 'Giant Barb' or 'Giant Siamese Carp' (Thai name - 'Pla Cahoor'; as it's native to Thailand) belongs to the Catlocarpio genus (carps & minnows) of the Cyprinidae family. The Greek name of the species is C. Siamensis/Σιαμέις. Siamese Carp is a migratory fish that holds the record for being the largest freshwater-dwelling fish in the world. The Giant Siamese carp can only be fished in freshwater rivers and lakes in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Siamese Carp is highly sought-after for food and this has caused its near-extinction, making it logistically harder to fish.
Siamese Carp can be found in the following locations:
Mekong River (from the Northernmost points in Laos, through Thailand down to Vietnam; the river marks a natural border between South-East Asian countries and contains the highest concentration of Siamese Carp, especially in the lower streams of the river).
Chao Praya River (river in Western Thailand that flows through Bangkok); though it’s close to expatriation.
Mae Klong River (not to be confused with ‘Mekong-River’ which is an Eastern, border-line river), this is a small river in Western Thailand which flows into the Gulf of Thailand.
Canals, lakes and flood-planes connected to the Mekong, Mae Klong and Chao Praya rivers.
Breeding camps (in Vietnam, breeding camps breed 1 million Siamese Carps a year for domestic consumption).
Tourists can notice a high concentration of the fish at the southern edge of Samut Songkhram Province (central Thailand), where the river flows into the Gulf of Thailand. There are a lot of Giant Barbs that are openly visible, especially during Chinese New Year where many domestic and foreign tourists come to feed the fish.
Siamese Carp remains present in the Mekong River basin, a river marking the natural border between Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. It's frequently grown in large-scale indoor aquariums in South East Asia, as a primarily means for food/sea-food restaurants. This fish requires large aquariums due to its size and unique needs. For fishing purposes, it can be found in Bangkok fishing pools & Western Thailand as well - the fish retains presence in the Chao Phraya river basin.
The highest concentration of Giant Barb is in the southern portion of the Makeong River basin, but the carp is also present in some Western freshwater basins. This is why recreational fishermen from Western countries tend to favor Thailand as a primary fishing location as opposed to Laos or Vietnam, because the fish is primarily found on Thai territory and all the largest breeding camps are located in Thailand and Vietnam, since the species was domesticated in 2005.
Siamese Carp is a naturally migratory species; therefore it can sometimes drift off its course in the Mekong/Mae Klong river basins and be found in Thailand's numerous freshwater lakes, canals and forests.
Maximum size: 9 feet/3 meters.
Maximum weight: 600 lbs/270 kg.
Average size: 3-6 feet (1-2 meters).
Average weight: 20-100 lbs (10-50 kg).
Siamese Carp can grow up to 9 feet or 3 meters long. Baby Siamese fish only weigh 4 lbs (2 kg), and many are unable to survive for more than a few days. A fully-grown Siamese Carp will weigh as much as 600 lbs (270 kg), and the record-highest weight was a bit over 600 lbs. The average Siamese Carp is around 3 feet (1 meter) long and weighs less than 50kg (110 lbs). The size of the fish makes it difficult to lift and restrain by a single person, and is therefore fished in larger groups of 2-3 men. Once it hooks, the fish takes a longer time to bring it to the boat and it requires an experienced, patient fisherman to pull off the feat. The “fight” with the Siamese Carp can sometimes take up to 2 hours. Fishing Siamese Carps is not recommended for novice fishermen.
There are few remaining monster Siamese Carps that are over 300 lbs. The average Siamese Carp today is between 50-100 lbs. The heavier they are, the harder they are to catch. The Carp likes to migrate to places with warmer water and healthier conditions for breeding.
The largest recorded Siamese Carp that is still alive is over 210 lbs and is currently swimming around in our lake and being caught on a regular basis and growing larger year on year.
Siamese Carp is in 2 colors mainly: black and grey. It's referred to as the "King of Carp" and this is the largest carp on Earth. Baby carps are different to fully-grown ones. They have disproportionately large heads with open cavernous mouths and many encyclopedias label them as being without barbules. With an open mouth, the Siamese Carp has only a few mini barbs located at the bottom-sides of the mouth. It has a resemblance to smaller carps, and if you've fished carp before you'll notice it's similar to its cousins just much larger in size.
WARNING: Siamese Carp can be a very dangerous fish for humans, due to its protective pectoral fins that resemble pedals and a rudder-tail. In the waters, this gives it high maneuverability when swimming in pairs and moving through strong currents; however, it's equally capable of high acceleration bursts when it's being pulled out of water. You must capture the fish carefully, and request help in the event you sense it's a large one.
This ‘King of Carps’ has an astonishing size, which on average will be in the 3 feet range, even for carps that are only 1-3 years old. It has a very distinct appearance that is "shimmering" due to pectoral fins that have very luminescent colors and stand out. The shimmering colors are usually rusty orange/bronze, blue or pure grey. Few color variations, standard carp-fish look and astonishing size make the Giant Carp easy to spot, especially in areas with high concentration. The Siamese Carp has strong fighting capability that is manifested by its high-speed maneuvers in the water, and powerful resistance once it's hooked on bait. The carp will give sudden bursts of power, switch directions and push at very high speeds. The feisty characteristics make this an unpleasant fish to deal with, but very satisfying to catch successfully.
The Siamese carp survives in water temperatures between 20-38°C. The fish is different to most animals; it’s classified as a tetraploid: while most other fish have two chromosomes, the Giant Barb has four chromosomes. The presence of 4 chromosomes is unusual and makes it harder to identify the gender of the fish. The organs and feeding methods are the same as other carps. The main distinction is the humongous size. The carp likes to migrate to areas where it finds better breeding and nutrition conditions: this is usually in the Southern streams of the Makeong River where there are fewer dams which affect its constant need for migration.
Siamese Carps almost exclusively feed on plants, and any records of them consuming animals/carps are rare. Giant Barbs prefer plants such as ground algae, terrestrial weeds, phytoplankton, and sometimes they feed on fruits if they are in their vicinity. In the rare event they consume animals; they feed on exclusively benthic crustaceans species such as other, smaller carps or shrimp.
Siamese Carp can be caught year-round. There are no spikes and downturns in presence of the fish in certain times of the year. This is because South East Asia has consistently hot weather. Most Western fishermen target Siamese Carp in fish parks where it's available year-round via a guided fishing holiday. Domestic fishermen who fish in the Mekong notice that there's an increase in small Siamese Carp along the lower parts of the basin in October.
In September, Siamese fish reproduce and lay eggs, and this is why in October new fish can be caught in large amounts. The mating behavior of Siamese Carp reveals there is a high concentration of the fish in the lower basins of the river each autumn. The fish has a migratory nature and this is why it's hard to predict which areas of the river and at what point of the year it has a high concentration.
Data from fishing parks and domestic fishermen in Thailand points to the fact Siamese Carp respond to certain bait better than others. The best-performing bait for Siamese Carp is Super Bait and Marshmallow bait. The fish responds poorly to sweet corn and larvae.
The Giant Barb is a wild fish, and people have struggled to domesticate it until recently. Unless it has perfect conditions (it only survives in year-round warm water temperatures from 20-38°C) and the ability to swim in large aquariums under certain temperatures and feeding it requires, very few eggs/small can survive in the breeding camps. The species was first domesticated in 2005 in Vietnam, and domesticated Siamese Carp is a very recent phenomenon.
The rise in domestic aquariums came about as a result of the scarcity of the fish and the economic value of breeding fish in controlled conditions. Records from Cambodia illustrated the vast majority of the fish was already fished out in the 60's, when over 2000 tonnes of Siamese Carp were caught over the span of the decade. Only 50 tonnes of fish were caught in the 80s. By the early 2000s, only 10 tonnes of Siamese Carp were caught in the country of Cambodia. The steep decline served as a testament to the scarcity of the fish, and gave rise to demand for controlled-breeding. The fish was successfully domesticated in 2005 for the first time.
Siamese Carp is an endangered species and many attempts have been made to conserve the species, involving domestic governments & foreign protective bodies alike. The IUCN Red List (Long name: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) is a UK-based biological species conservation center that retains the world's highest concentration of endangered species and lobbies for their preservation. The IUCN classified Siamese Carp as an endangered species.
The Siamese Carp is not only endangered by over-fishing: it can also be endangered by man-made pollution such as sewage/oil-spills in the rivers; or the construction of dams that close-off certain parts of the river to the species, effectively affecting it's natural migration routes.
2005: The first Siamese Carp was domesticated successfully in Vietnam, in Vietnam’s Freshwater Research Institute.
2005: Cambodia’s Royal Government proclaimed it the country’s “national treasure” and vowed to take more measures to preserve the species. The fish appears in ancient Temple carvings in Cambodia.
2010: 50,000 new young Siamese Carps under 4 lbs. are released in the Mekong River (many of which didn’t survive).
Domestic governments in SEA have made independent attempts to save the species in their parts of the Mekong river. Some of these revitalization attempts were successful, while others failed. The Kingdom of Cambodia recognizes the species as a “national treasure” and made attempts to repopulate their end of the Mekong river with new Siamese Carp.
Vietnam made many attempts to conserve it in its Southern regions where it’s mostly present. Vietnam’s Freshwater institute released over 50,000 new young Siamese Carps under 2kg in their waters, although many were reported to not grow to adulthood due to bad conditions in the river.
Giant Carp bred with natural ground weeds/algae can grow 2-5 kg a year. When grown with this method the average weight at selling point is 10-20 kg.
Giant Carp bred with high-calorie breeding food can grow 7-10 kg a year. Average weight at selling point is much higher at 50-70 kg.
The Giant Barb has high economic value – this is the main driving force behind many attempts to save & extend its life cycle. Following-up successful attempts at domestication in 2005, the species is now not as endangered and each year more than 1 million fully-grown Siamese Carp are sold to restaurants, farmer markets and exported from the SEA region. Siamese fishes are grown in controlled “breeding camps” that provide ideal living conditions to this giant fish, secure from the influence of environmental toxicity and waste. Many of these “home-grown” carps are exported to international markets as well.
Siamese Carps grown in breeding camps tend to average out at 10-20kg – to reach that weight, the average fish can take up to 3 years if they’re bred on natural algae in the aquariums. Siamese Carp is quite affordable at the baby stage, and new Carps can be purchased for the equivalent of $5 USD/fish. However, it's a very demanding fish and unless it's given the right swimming conditions in an aquarium and feeding, they might fail to reach the age of sexual reproduction.