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Officials poison Florida pond that was home to piranha

November 19, 2009 | 11:20 am

This red-bellied piranha, caught in a West Palm Beach retention pond on Oct. 13, measured one foot in length.

A retention pond near West Palm Beach, Fla. was purposely poisoned earlier this week after red-bellied piranha were discovered living in it.

The piranha were discovered by a young angler, who hooked one of the fish last month. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists followed up and discovered another one 10 days later.

So on Tuesday, FWC biologists pumped rotenone into the pond, effectively killing every living thing in the water.

"The only way to be sure all of the piranha are gone is to apply a safe-to-use fish toxicant to kill any piranha that might still be present in this pond," Scott Hardin, FWC exotic species leader, said in a news release.

"Fisheries managers have used rotenone since 1934 to eradicate unwanted fish without harming habitat, and its use is a standard fish-management technique," Hardin said.

Rotenone is an odorless chemical that occurs naturally in the roots of several plants. It breaks down quickly after use, leaving no harmful residue. The Environmental Protection Agency closely monitors rotenone, its use and effects.

Officials believe the fish may have been released from someone's aquarium. It is unlawful to keep piranha as pets in Florida, punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and a year in prison. 

"We can help anyone who has an illegal species, such as piranha," Hardin said. "We encourage folks to call us, and we'll help -- no questions asked."

The FWC will monitor the pond and nearby waterways, removing all dead fish to ensure that no piranha remain. Once clear, the waters will be restocked with native freshwater fish.

The deliberate poisoning of the pond may seem drastic -- the FWC has never found any evidence of a breeding population of piranha in the state -- but I suppose it is better to be safe than sorry.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: This red-bellied piranha, caught in a West Palm Beach retention pond on Oct. 13, measured a foot in length. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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