Toothy fish caught on White River is piranha cousin
BEAVER -- What everyone at the Beaver RV Park thought was a piranha caught Saturday night turned out to be a pacu -- the piranha's vegetarian cousin -- but it caused a stir of excitement.
Fishing buddies Dale Rouse and Leonard Yeager of Wheeler, Ark., were fishing in the White River, upriver from Beaver, when Rouse hooked a fish he couldn't land, and Yeager had to help him bring it in.
"It was thrashing from side to side, and we couldn't get it into the net," Rouse said. "It was big, and really strong."
What they finally managed to bring into the boat was huge -- and strange. It had what looked like human teeth.
RV Park attendants Jim and Sherrell Dykes called David Brown, owner of Tall Tales Guide Service. He came down to the park and said he thought the fish was a piranha, native to Central and South America. Piranhas are known as "man-eating fish" and have frightened movie-goers for decades.
Brown measured the fish at 19 inches long and 16 inches around.
The fish was caught with Treet®, a luncheon loaf similar to Spam®.
But not to worry -- Ron Moore, a wildlife biologist with Arkansas Game & Fish, said from the description, the fish sounds like a pacu, a non-aggressive cousin easily mistaken for the piranha. It eats plant matter, although it will eat small fish or a meat lure.
"It's vegetarian, and no danger to the public," Moore said.
What distinguishes pacu from piranhas is that pacu have square, straight teeth, and piranhas have pointed, razor-sharp teeth. Piranhas also look like bulldogs with an underbite.
Moore said it is illegal in Arkansas to possess a piranha, but pacu are commonly kept as pets.
"People that have pacus in aquariums sometimes dump them into the lake, although it's illegal to release exotic fish into Arkansas waters," he said. He said that although there is little danger of pacu transmitting diseases to native and stocked species in Arkansas rivers and lakes, it can happen with other exotic species, putting the fishery in danger.
There have been other pacu caught in state waters, Moore said.
"Every few years you'll hear reports of people catching what they think is a piranha. There was one caught at Lake Sequoia (near Fayetteville) five or six months ago. They're a tropical fish and will die with the cold weather."
Like the piranha, the pacu is also native to Central and South America, and its adult size ranges from 18 to 36 inches. People who buy them as pets don't realize they will need at least 1,000-gallon aquarium for a fish that size.
Beaver Mayor Chad Hipps offered to freeze the fish for Rouse and Yeager to take home with them. He wants people to know it's safe to swim in the waters of Beaver RV Park.
"I was just swimming there today," he said, laughing. "Come to Beaver, you never know what you're going to find!"