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#06-224 August 28, 2006

Non-native Pacu fish caught in Sampit River

The introduction of any species of marine or freshwater fish or invertebrate not already found in South Carolina waters is potentially dangerous to native ecosystem vitality, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

A recent catch of a red-bellied pacu in Georgetown County’s upper Sampit River July 16 is one of thePacu few recorded catches of this exotic species in an open water system in South Carolina. Another was taken in October 2004 in the Ashley River in Charleston County. The red-bellied pacu, endemic to South American rivers, is a popular aquarium pet fish that can grow up to 33 inches, much larger than the space that smaller aquarium tanks can afford. Pacu are closely related to piranha, and although a mostly herbivorous species, they may also eat fish and insects and may take natural or artificial bait.

The recent pacu catch provides the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with an important reminder for the public that it is dangerous to release exotic aquarium pets and plants into the wild. The introduction of these exotic species, such as the pacu, can have detrimental effects for native species inhabiting South Carolina waters. Non-native species can rapidly reproduce and out compete native species for food resources, habitat and can become difficult to control. Non-native plants can become established and can obstruct waterways, thereby restricting natural flows and navigation. Fortunately, most tropical species are not likely to survive winter water temperatures. 

Accordingly, the release of such species into the wild is not only environmentally irresponsible, but also usually results in the eventual and gradual death of the released animal. If animals or plants obtained through the pet trade become unwanted, the owner should either return them to a pet dealer or get them to another owner. Otherwise, non-native species should be euthanized and never released into the wild.

More information about nuisance aquatic plants and animals can be found at www.dnr.sc.gov/water/envaff/aquatic/index and by calling:

“The introduction of non-indigenous species has secondary negative impacts in addition to the impacts caused by their invasion alone,” said Billy McCord, DNR wildlife biologist. “Diseases and parasites carried by non-native species can be introduced and could potentially be much worse than their hosts.”

The U.S. Geological Survey reports that more than 2,000 non-native fish species are imported into the United States every year for use in the aquarium pet trade. This figure represents 150 million exotic freshwater and marine fish.
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