Wednesday, September 2, 2009

South American pacu caught near Brownstown

Lancaster Online reported on September 1 about the capture of a South American fish in the Conestoga near Brownstown, Pennsylvania:
Eric Laubach and Steve Bergstrom both thought there was something fishy about the "sunfish" Eric's 5-year-old son, Jake, hauled out of the Conestoga River Sunday evening.

"We were catching some nice sunnies, but this one was a lot bigger than the others," Bergstrom said.

Holding the 12-inch-long fish in his hand as he prepared to remove the hook from its mouth, Laubach got a look at the fish's jaws.

That's when he saw teeth.

"I knew Steve used to have piranhas, so I said to him, 'You gotta look at this, I think it's a piranha,' " Laubach said.

Bergstrom seconded his friend's identification, but noticed "that thing was a lot bigger than any piranha I ever had."

Based on the shape of the fish's teeth and its overall size, however, it most likely is a red-bellied pacu.

Piranhas have a protruding lower jaw lined with triangular teeth used for tearing apart flesh.

The lower jaw of a pacu is flush with its upper jaw and its teeth are closer to square than triangular. Pacus will eat anything, but prefer fruits and vegetables, according to the state Fish and Boat Commission's Web site.

And while a 12-inch-long piranha would be about as big as that species is known to grow, a foot-long pacu is a common length for that fish, which can grow to more than 25 inches.

Pacu or piranha — neither one belongs in the Conestoga River.

Both fish are native to South America, but are commonly kept in aquariums in North America.

Red-bellied pacus have been caught in the Conestoga River before. Officials with the Fish and Boat Commission have said in the past the tropical fish likely were pets released into the wild by their owners — an illegal act in Pennsylvania.

Thinking the fish was a piranha, Laubach and Bergstrom didn't feel comfortable returning Jake's catch to the Conestoga River behind Bergstrom's house on Riveredge Drive in Manheim Township.

So they took it into the house and put it in an aquarium kept by 5-year-old Wells Bergstrom, who was fishing with Jake at the time the fish was caught.

When the men did some research on the fish, they found a notice on the Fish and Boat Commission's Web site that stated such fish should be removed from the wild when caught.

"We called the Game Commission (Monday) and they told us not to put it back, too," said Bergstrom's wife, Tonya.

The fish died in Jake's aquarium Monday, and Bergstrom was considering having it mounted by a taxidermist.

"It sure is going to be something to talk about for a long time," he said.
Note the article says this isn't the first time this species has been found...

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