Exotic fish caught in Lake Hickory, "tip of the problem" say Wildlife officials

Published: Jun. 19, 2013 at 9:24 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2016 at 2:10 AM EDT
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TAYLORSVILLE, NC (WBTV) - Six-year-old Ayden White loves to fish. "It's a lot of fun," he said Wednesday while getting his rod and reel prepared to go back out. On Tuesday he lived a real life fish story on Lake Hickory.

"I jerked it back like this," said Ayden as he was showing how he hooked what he thought at first was "a 40 pound catfish." It turns out it was no catfish. It wasn't anything anyone around him yesterday had ever seen before.

It was about ten inches long and had a ferocious set of teeth. "Razor sharp teeth," said Ayden's grandfather Tony Davis.

At first they thought they had caught a piranha but on closer inspection, and a little help from the internet, they realized the fish was a Pacu, native of South America and a plant eater, not a meat eater.

Pacu are sold in some places for aquariums. Since they are not native to the waters in North America it is illegal in most places to release them into the wild, though wildlife officials say it is clear in this case that someone did.

"It is illegal," said John Tucker of the North Carolina Wildlife resources Commission.

The concern is that introducing non-native species could wreck the ecosystem. The new species may compete for food with native fish or possibly breed and cause other problems. In this case, officials are not too concerned because the Pacu likely was released recently.

It can't survive the colder water in Lake Hickory during the winter months.

It's not just fish from other countries that worry officials. Other species from across the nation have been introduced in local waters and are causing big headaches. Spotted Bass, White Perch, and Flathead Catfish are just a few that are causing problems.

They are taking over some habitats and are crossbreeding in some cases with native species. Those newly introduced fish are native to waters west of the Mississippi River and should not be in this area. Officials speculate that fisherman brought them from the west and released them here.

It is against the law and could result in stiff fines and other penalties, say officials. It is illegal, they say, to transfer any living fish from one body of water to another, even if it is just down the street from each other.

Ayden kept the Pacu that he caught. He wants to eat it but his family has said no to that. It may wind up heading to the taxidermist so he'll have a trophy for his wall.

Officials say he did the right thing by not releasing the fish back into the lake and urge others who may catch a non-native species to do the same.

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