The mystery surrounding a toothy fish, caught in an East Valley canal is solved. The Department of Fish and Game looked the fish over and confirms it's not a piranha, but a very close relative
Jack Crayon is a biologist for the Department of Fish and Game. He took one look at the fish and said, "This is the dangerous fish? The first thing I'd say is it's very big for a piranha."
Crayon says the 5-pound fish, with human-like teeth is a "pacu", a realative of the piranha, from South America. He says, "Yeah, see he's got teeth and there's a little bit of an edge to them but that's nothing like you'd actually see in a piranha."
The teeth would be more prominent and stand-up like an arrowhead, if it was a piranha. Crayon says, "These aren't the kind of teeth on a carnivore. These animals eat a lot of vegetables, nuts and fruits. They will eat other small animals but they're not like a piranha, ripping flesh off with razor sharp teeth."
So, how did this guy end up in the waters of thermal? Crayon says, "What you see is how they get in the waters here is they grow too big for somebody's aquarium and somebody just turns them loose."
That makes it fair game for someone like 15 year-old Gerardo Godinez to reel-in. And that's what happened last Sunday, when the pacu went straight for some shrimp bait. Godinez says, "It's a lot bigger than the fish I'm used to."
Ultimately the pacu can grow to be 3-feet long. And once they outgrow their tank, it's illegal to simply cut loose. Crayon says, "I'd still like people to be aware that it's not a good idea to bring animals into a place that they don't exist already."
But it's completely legal to catch and keep an exotic species, that may seem out of place. Crayon says, "To take, yeah absolutely. He would be on my dinner plate if I was fishing out there."
So what is the fate of this pacu? Godinez says, "I would like to keep it."
The Godinez family is still deciding what to do with the fish. Gerardo wants to keep it, but his dad would like to return it to the waters here where they caught it, since he considers it a lucky catch. In the meantime, the pacu found a home in an aquarium next to Gerardo's bed. And he'll keep fishing for catfish and tilapia, maybe the occasional pacu, because you obviously never know what's going to bite next.