Bridge over Lake Don Pedro just outside Yosemite National Park. Photo by Brad Fults.
Jason Earlywine and a buddy got the shock of a lifetime when a night fishing trip netted the two fishermen what they thought were piranha’s Don Pedro Reservoir just outside Yosemite.
Unions Democrat: Earlywine, who works at Rawhide Meat Processing in Jamestown, believed the two very-foreign looking fish he and a buddy caught were piranhas. On closer examination, the fish appear to be the more-tempered, but just as foreign piranha cousin, called a pacu, said Peter Moyle, fish biology professor at the University of California, Davis. Moyle has been studying the ecology of freshwater fish in California for more than 35 years.
“It is certainly a pacu,” Moyle said, after examining pictures of one of the fish caught.
Pacu thrive so well in aquariums that they often outgrow the glass cage and owners dump them in lakes or streams – which is a death sentence for these tropical freshwater fish because they cannot survive winter’s chill, Moyle said.
“This happens once every two or three years … these fish get too big for people’s aquariums, and get big very quickly, and people can’t bear to kill them or eat them so they release them.”
Piranhas and pacu are almost identical looking, other than their teeth. A piranha has a mouthful of vampire-like canines, while pacu teeth oddly resemble human teeth.
“The teeth are too blunt to be a piranha’s,” Moyle said.
Still, the two fish caught in Don Pedro are a catch of a lifetime.
The fishermen keep one sealed in a bag at Rawhide Meat. The other they gave to the biologists at Department of Fish and Game’s Moccasin Hatchery for closer examination.
“I’m going to have it mounted,” Earlywine said of the fish he kept.
The catch came as a surprise to Dave Jigour, lake operations manager for the Don Pedro Recreation Agency.
He hadn’t heard anything of the mystifying muncher.
But Moyle said swimmers should not be afraid of this less-ferocious cousin of the piranha, which many dub the vegetarian piranha.
“They’ll eat seeds, small insects, small fish … pretty much anything you feed them,” he said — except humans.