ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FL-- Saturday morning, Chauncelor Howell and Mike Iania went to River Park on Prima Vista Boulevard with the hopes of catching a couple of fish. What they never expected was to find one of the largest specimens ever seen of a fish native to South America’s Amazon River.
Howell arrived at the park at 7 a.m. with his fishing tackle ready to fish the St. Lucie River’s North Fork. Then he saw something that caught his eye.
“It was low tide and I looked down and saw something strange lying near the north end of the pier,” he said. “So I put on my gloves, jumped down and picked it up onto the pier.”
Iania and son Matthew, 11, saw the large fish and were amazed by its size and uniqueness.
“No one knew what it was,” Iania said. “We called (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) and the officer that came said he didn’t know what it was, but he didn’t want it.”
Iania took the fish to Billy Bones Bait and Tackle in Port St. Lucie, the Snook Nook in Jensen Beach and even to Florida Oceanographic to get a positive identification for it.”
While no one was sure what it was, Capt. Bruce Hrobak of Billy Bones found a site that suggested it was a pacu.
The fish measured 38 inches in length and 17 inches in girth. It weighed 52 pounds on a scale. According to the International Game Fish Association 2010 World Record Game Fishes, the All Tackle World Record for a pacu caught using hook and line weighed 44 pounds and was caught in Fort Lauderdale in 2000.
The tropical fish was one of the millions of fish killed by the prolonged period of cold weather. Water temperatures as low as the 40s were recorded in many places in the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie River. Although pacu is a freshwater fish, the St. Lucie River is usually brackish, containing some salinity.
Grant Gilmore, Ph.D. a marine biologist, verified the find as a pacu Wednesday. Another measuring about nine inches was also found Wednesday near the same location. Gilmore said some experts have stated that pacu are not breeding in Florida waters. After cutting open the fish Wednesday morning, Gilmore was surprised at what he found.
“It looks like the St. Lucie River is becoming the Amazon of the north,” he said. “She was a gravid female getting ready to spawn. She had two large gonads filled with large eggs.”
Gilmore said an egg count will be completed by next week and he also collected the head of the fish in order to examine its otilith or ear bone to discover its age. He said its physical condition was good, even after dehydrating for four days.
“It must have been eating pretty good,” Iania said.
Pacu look a lot like piranha and are even called vegetarian piranha for their preference of eating low-hanging fruit when the rivers swell in the Amazon. Their teeth appear more similar to human molars suited for crushing nuts and berries.
Pacu are available for purchase at some aquarium stores. but are on the list of species prohibited to be released into Florida waters.
Copyright 2010 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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