A long-time Arizona fisherman reeled in a surprise catch at a local lake on Friday: a three-pound pacu fish.
Jeff Evans, 49, was fishing for trout when he reeled in what he thought was a Oscar fish, also known as the tiger oscar or velvet cichlid.
“I could see them, there were about five or six of them and I lost it the first time I hooked it, it broke the hook,” Evans told the Arizona Daily Star.
He replaced his broken hook with a new, larger one and was able to successfully reel the fish in. Evans is now warning others to watch out for other pacu fish, which are relatives of piranhas, because they’re feisty and could potentially be dangerous.
“It physically tried to get me a few times...that’s all it did was try to bite,” he said.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department in Tucson later confirmed that the fish was a pacu fish, but it wasn’t placed by them in the 13-acre Silverbell Lake, or any other waterways. Rather, someone probably dumped the fish into the lake after it was too large to fit in a home aquarium, Mark Hart, a spokesperson for the department, told The Arizona Republic, noting that this type of dumping has been an ongoing issue.
“What they don’t realize is that invasive species crowd out native species,” Hart said. “It’s a bad practice, and people don’t want to destroy something that’s been a pet. But it’s not helpful and can lead to some confusion.”
Despite the constant dumping, pacu fish aren’t typically seen in Arizona lakes, according to Don Mitchell, Arizona Game and Fish regional aquatic wildlife program supervisor, who has been fishing for more than two decades. He’s only ever seen about 10 to 12 in Arizona, he told The Arizona Republic.
Pacus, which are native to South America, have also appeared in other states across the U.S. In 2015, a New Jersey man fishing with his family caught a Pacu, which are known for their human-like teeth.
“We did pull the bottom lip down to see what they looked like and they have almost human teeth. It's exactly what it looked like on the Internet,” Ron Rossi, who caught the Pacu in Swedes Lake, told 6abc.
Despite the alarming teeth (and Evan’s counter), humans shouldn’t worry too much about getting seriously injured by the creatures. Damaging ecosystems by dumping the fish should be of greater concern.
“In many places, it is illegal to release exotic species like pacu, so aquarium owners should take the time to educate themselves about the requirements necessary to keep the fish they buy,” Zeb Hogan, a fish biologist, told National Geographic.
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