Everyone wants to be a “big fish” in his field. For Zeb Hogan, big fish are his field. Megafish, to be precise: the largest freshwater fish on the planet. Sometimes reaching 200 pounds and six feet in length, megafish inhabit streams, rivers, and lakes on six continents.
Hogan, the host of the National Geographic Channel’s show Monster Fishsince 2007, has come face to face with megafish as unusual as the freshwater sawfish of Australia, which has sharp teeth running along its sawlike snout. “You don’t want to get on the wrong side of this fish,” he jokes.
Though Hogan has worked with megafish for over 10 years, “the size and the strength of these monster fish still surprise me, every time,” he says. “It still takes my breath away.”
Indeed, they make quite a splash — when you can see them. “Seventy-five percent of megafish worldwide are endangered,” says Hogan, a National Geographic Society (NGS) Explorer and one of only 15 NGS Fellows. Hogan, supported by the NGS, initiated the Megafishes Project in 2005 to raise awareness of megafish, conduct population assessments, and implement conservation strategies that involve local fishermen in communities where megafish have thrived.
“Megafishes are usually at the top of the food chain,” he says. “They are indicators of the health of rivers and lakes. They are often the first species to disappear if there is pollution or overfishing.”
At the University of Arizona, Hogan was a Flinn Scholar and participated in the prestigious Undergraduate Biology Research Program, through which he conducted surveys of natural fish populations in the Colorado River. He also studied abroad in Thailand, where he analyzed the impact of dams on native aquatic species. Hogan graduated with a bachelor’s of science in ecology and evolutionary biology and completed his doctorate in aquatic ecology at the University of California, Davis, in 2004
As an assistant research professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the University of Nevada, Reno, Hogan has visited 20 countries in the last decade. When the law is not on his side to protect megafish, he often finds himself buying the fish outright.
People may think it’s fish against fishermen, Hogan says, but he doesn’t see his conservation goals as being in conflict with the needs of fishermen. Subsistence fishermen, he says, “understand if these fish disappear they are going to lose their livelihood.” He sees the Megafishes Project as a way to conserve the fish and as a collaboration with fishermen.
Hogan’s dedication to these endangered species led to his appointment in 2006 as the Scientific Councilor for Fish to the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species. “I really care about these fish,” he says. “I spend every day thinking about them.”