Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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August 6, 2009

Not your ordinary keeper

Mystery fish caught at I.O.O.F. park this week not a piranha

Local anglers have caught some unusual fish from the I.O.O.F. Park lake this week, leading the city to put up “no swimming” signs, according to Sharla Allen, parks director.

At first glance, the fish caught resembled a piranha. However, a late afternoon phone call Wednesday from a wildlife expert has everyone breathing easier — the fish is actually a “red-bellied pacu,” and presents no health or safety concern to humans, Allen said.

Quanah Malott of Corbet was fishing at the I.O.O.F. Lake Sunday with her granddaughter, Lacy Kate Severn, 7, when she caught one of the mysterious fish. She caught another Monday. Another angler caught a similar fish at the lake too, Allen said.

“I tell you the truth, I didn’t know what to think,” Malott said. “I’ve fished all my life and never caught anything that looked like that. Without thinking, I threw it back in the lake,” after catching it on Sunday, but first took a picture of the odd fish.

Malott said her daughter researched the rare find on the Internet and thought the fish might be a piranha, and told her to keep the next one if she caught another.

When Monday’s trip back to the park yielded another catch, Malott held on to the fish and notified the sheriff’s department, who referred her to city authorities. Allen launched a project to determine just exactly what the mystery catch was, which turned out not to be a piranha, as first feared.

Pacu resemble some South American fresh-water fish, and its scary cousin, the piranha. Both are toothy and aggressive with reddish coloring, according to Ken Kurzawski, a biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife in Austin.

“We get a few calls each year of people catching these,” Kurzawski said Wednesday. “They’re almost always pacu. There’s only been a couple of piranha caught.”

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