The detection and conservation of spawning units is of crucial importance in highly migratory species. The sutchi catfish Pangasianodon hypophthalmus (Pangasiidae; Teleostei) is a common large-sized tropical fish, which migrates annually to several upstream spawning sites on the Lower Mekong River and feeds on the huge floodplain of the Lower Mekong and Tonle Sap for the other half of the year. We hypothesised that because of the relative size of the feeding and spawning habitat, genetic variability would be high and homogeneous in foraging populations, but that spawning stocks would be distinct in space and time. To test these predictions, 567 individuals from 10 geographic locations separated by up to 1230 km along the Lower Mekong River were genotyped at seven microsatellite loci. The level of genetic diversity was much higher than other freshwater fish and reached values comparable to marine species ( mean H-e = 0.757). All samples collected at the potential spawning sites deviated from Hardy - Weinberg expectations, suggesting admixture. Individual-based clustering methods revealed genetic heterogeneity and enabled the detection of three genetically distinct sympatric populations. There was no evidence of recent reduction in effective population size in any population. Contrasting with the vast extent of the feeding grounds, the shortage of spawning grounds seems to have moved sutchi catfish towards diachronous spawning. Hence the sustainable exploitation of this natural resource hinges on the conservation of the limited spawning grounds and open migration routes between the spawning and feeding grounds.