The Feral Vermont Amazonian Pacu

From WPTZ Plattsburg . . .

Late last week, alert employees of the Vermont Marble Power Division of Omya, Inc. spotted an odd looking fish in Otter Creek near their Sutherland Falls plant in Proctor. The employees collected the fish and contacted the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Department fisheries biologist Shawn Good later identified the 15-inch, 2.5-pound fish as a Pacu (Piaractus brachypomus).
The Pacu, native to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins of South America, belongs to the Serrasalminae fish family, which also includes the various species of Piranha. Pacu can grow quite large, up to 36 inches or more, even in captivity. Despite their size, they are a popular aquarium fish species, and are widely found in pet shops and private aquaria across the country. "Many aquarium fish like this Pacu are often kept by hobbyists because they are considered exotic and out of the ordinary," explained Good, who chairs the department's Aquatic Nuisance Species Committee. "However, even when kept in larger aquariums, many of these exotic fish species will outgrow their owner's ability to care and maintain them."
Unfortunately, when pet fish outgrow their aquarium homes, many misguided owners choose to release them into a nearby waterbody, thinking they are doing their pet a favor by setting them free. "Illegal aquarium releases are a common source of exotic species introductions in the U.S.," said Good. "More than 38 species of unwanted fish and dozens of plants, crayfish, and snails have become established in waters of the U.S.
These species not only impact native aquatic ecosystems, but they also affect the economy and recreational activities that rely on these ecosystems. While the environmental and economic consequences for many exotic species are unknown, some infestations have cost millions of dollars for control and management. Eurasian watermilfoil and the northern snakehead fish are just two examples that probably originated from aquarium sources.
This incident marks the latest of many discoveries of exotic aquarium fish swimming around in Vermont waters. In 2005, a fisherman caught an Oscar - also a South American fish species from the Amazon region - while bass fishing in Lake Hortonia in Rutland County. That same year, a Middlebury College professor found a tropical catfish in Lake Dunmore, in Addison County. Even the common goldfish has been found living, and unfortunately even thriving, in some Vermont lakes and ponds.
"It seems that the general public is largely unaware of the dangers posed by releasing aquarium fish into Vermont's waters," said Good. "I can't stress enough how serious this is". Some aquarium fish, plants and other aquatic animals such as exotic snails can devastate Vermont's natural habitats and severely impact our native aquatic ecosystems if they are released into the wild. They may also introduce dangerous disease organisms that can severely impact native fish and wildlife populations." "In this case, the Pacu that was released into Otter Creek would never have survived the coming cold weather, because it requires a warm climate," Good said. "However, if it had been another species like the northern snakehead, it would be an altogether different situation. There are many species of common aquarium fish that could establish populations in Vermont if they were released, and that could cause immense damage to our native fish populations and ecosystems."
Because of this threat, a new regulation was passed in 2009 listing fish species that are prohibited from being imported, sold or possessed in Vermont. The purpose is to protect Vermont's valuable natural resources. The list includes a number of aquarium fish species. For more information on the Prohibited, Restricted, and Unrestricted Fish Species rule, visit the Department's website at and follow the link under Law Enforcement to "Rules and Proposed Rules."
"In addition to the new regulation," said Good, "it is illegal to release fish into the public waters of Vermont." The potential penalty for unlawful introduction of fish to Vermont waters is a $500 fine. Rather than releasing unwanted aquarium fish and plants into the wild, there are other, more environmentally sound and legal, approaches, such as give them to another aquarium owner, advertise to give them away or donate them to a public facility, nursing home, or business that has an aquarium or water garden.
If these options are not available, you can dispose of the fish by placing it in a container of water and putting it into the freezer. Because cold temperature is a natural anesthetic to tropical fishes, this is considered an acceptable method of euthanasia.
New sightings of exotic species should be reported immediately to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department at 241-3700, or a local Fish & Wildlife District office. Preferably reports should be accompanied with a photo of the fish. For more information on the dangers and risks of releasing aquarium pets and plants into the wild, visit Habitattitude's website at