Alarm at 'destructive' piranha hunt

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 July, 2012, 12:00am


Scientists derided a major campaign in Guangxi province to catch piranhas after two residents were reportedly bitten by fish in the Liu River last week.

Officials in the city of Liuzhou on Monday mobilised more than a dozen fishing boats and offered residents 1,000 yuan (HK$1,230) for each piranha caught.

Fishermen cast nets more than 10 kilometres long that plumb the depths of the riverbeds, and used large quantities of meat, blood and organs as bait. More than 10kg of nearly every species of fish in the Liu River was caught, but not a single piranha, the Liuzhou Daily reported.

Piranhas are thought to have been dumped in rivers by people who bought them as pets but tired of them.

Some scientists say the campaign is foolish and destructive.

'I'm afraid the government is doing greater harm to the ecosystem than the piranhas,' said Luo Jianren , a researcher with the Pearl River Fisheries Research Institute in Guangzhou.

Luo said the number of piranhas was unlikely to increase significantly in Chinese rivers because their waters are colder and less acidic than the River Amazon, where the fish, with their razor-sheep teeth and reputation for ferocity, originate.

Liu Huanzhang, who researches fish behaviour at the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said officials should have done their research before taking action. Since officials announced the reward, many residents had been fishing along river banks, the China News Service said.

Despite the campaign's failure, city officials said it had been effective given the amount of fish caught. They said they would expand and intensify the campaign in the coming days.

Zhang Kaibo , a Liuzhou resident, said he was bitten by three piranhas when he was bathing his dog in the Liu River. A piranha sank its teeth so firmly and deeply into Zhang's palm that he lifted it out of the river and killed it on the river bank.

Another resident, who was teasing the piranhas with his fingers, was also bitten.

Neither victim knew what kind of fish had bitten them until they went home and found pictures of piranhas on the internet. Their finding was later confirmed by provincial aquatic researchers, Xinhua said.

Scientists say piranhas are not as fearsome as often portrayed in the movies. They will not attack people unless they are afraid or have tasted blood.

Piranhas live in big groups in the Amazon and eat a wide variety of food, such as seeds and animals.

Scientific studies show the fish are not relentless predators, and tend to be timid when alone or in small groups. 'A few piranhas in a river would not threaten anything or anybody,' Luo said. People were more likely to get bitten by dogs than piranhas, he said.