Piranha: A threat to Bangladesh's fish resources

Some greedy businessmen have imported a dangerous species of fish called Piranha which can spell doom to the country's aquatic life. As the frightening fish is likely to affect the country's ecology so the Government should immediately take the concerned persons to task, punish them and ban its culture.

Piranhas can be bought as pets in some areas. The most common by far is Pygocentrus nattereri, or the red-bellied piranha.

They can either be bought fully grown or as babies no bigger than a thumbnail. It is important to keep the Pygocentrus genus of piranhas either singularly or in groups of four or more, since aggression amongst the group is common and distributed more widely when kept in larger groups, allowing the weaker fish to survive.

It is also recommended to keep them in even-numbered groups, as they will gang up on an odd member. Any fish-based foods, available from most fish farms or stores, will do for feeding but thawed shrimp, fillets of white fish and disease free feeders are preferred. As with all fish, the young should be fed very little; overfeeding can kill them. As they get older and bigger, they will eat a good deal more. It is usually necessary to change types of food often, in order to provide a balanced diet. While feeder goldfish are the most popular choice, they contain a B vitamin inhibitor that may stunt growth and shorten the piranha's life span. Piranhas prefer a darker environment with a lot of plant cover. If they do not have this cover, they will become nervous.
The piranha, a South American carnivorous freshwater fish, has recently been introduced to the fish farmers of Bangladesh. It may be profitable for the farmers for the time being, but it will soon destroy other fish species. The piranha could breed in large numbers in a very short period of time and destroy the ecological balance in the country's lakes or rivers. For its unruly tendency to bite everything that moves in the water, and attacking its prey in groups, it is called "the wolf of the water." Now it is available in the kitchen markets of Dhaka. Local fish sellers call them "piranha chanda".

The flesh-eating piranha for its unruly tendency to bite everything that moves in a river, should be banned and totally eliminated from the country, China's fishery department ordered in 2002. The piranha had been put on the banned list of imported aquatic species by Chinese customs department, and its illegal importation would incur fines of at least 50 thousand yuan (6.25 thousand US dollars), said the department. A source from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture said a campaign to eliminate piranhas had been carried out nationwide, and so far most of them have been wiped out from Chinese public and private aquatic markets. In Venezuelan rivers they are called caribes. They belong to five genera of the subfamily of Serrasalminae (which also includes closely related herbivorous fish including pacus and silver dollars). They are normally about 15 to 25 cm long (6 to 10 inches), although reportedly individuals have been found up to 40 cm in length. They are known for their sharp teeth and an aggressive appetite for meat and flesh. Locals use their teeth in tools and weapons. They are normally found only in the Amazonian, Guianas, Paraguayan and Argentinian river systems.

When a school of piranha are in a feeding frenzy the water appears to boil and churn red with blood. They attack with such ferocity that they strip an animal of its flesh within a matter of minutes, even taking bites out of each other in the process. Adult piranha will eat just about anything - other fish, sick and weakened cattle, even humans. Sickly cattle that have stooped their heads down to drink from the river have been grabbed by the mouth and nose and pulled into the water, completely devoured minutes later (A. Salam, Holiday, May 4, 2007).

Piranha or Thai Chanda? Mymensingh farmers protest govt order for destruction

Fish farmers and hatchery owners in Mymensingh have claimed that fishery authorities have 'branded' their Thai Chanda as Piranha and asked them to destroy those. Piranha eats other fishes and is harmful to the environment. Fish farmers at a recent press conference at a hatchery at Ragabpur in Sadar upazila claimed that Thai Chanda is being cultivated in Bangladesh for long. The authorities have "wrongly" identified it (Thai Chanda) as Piranha, they claimed.

There are around Tk 1,000 Thai Chanda fishes and fries in some 100 hatcheries and several hundred farms in Mymensingh and Comilla districts, the farmers said at the press conference. They also informed that Thai Chanda belongs to Colossama species. It is known as Pacu, Pirapitinga and Pal Pacu in Thailand and is consumed widely in that country. Piranha is available in South America and Guyana and is also eaten by humans there.

Mymensingh district fishery department made announcements over loud speakers recently, asking fish farmers to kill Thai Chanda fishes, taking those to be Piranha, they told the press conference. The authorities took the decision without proper investigation, they claimed. They also claimed that Fisheries Faculty of Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) and Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI) conducted a field survey in 2005, which did not identify Thai Chanda as Piranha or declare it harmful to the environment.

Thai Chanda can be cultivated with other fishes including indigenous Ruhi, Katla, catfish and Telapia and no farmer reported that it eats other fishes, said Md. Muzammel Karim, owner of Muktagacha Fisheries in Muktagacha upazila. Md. Sham Miah, owner of United Fisheries in Comilla, said cultivation of Thai Chanda increased the country in last two years.

Media reports describing Thai Chanda as Piranha has put us in a great crisis, they regretted. Over 50 hatchery owners from different upazilas of Mymensingh and Comilla were present at the press conference.

On contact, District Fisheries Officer Syed Arif Azad said a team led by Director General of Fisheries Department Md. Mukammel Hossain is working to settle the issue. The team includes fish scientists from Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, Mymensingh and CARITAS. It will give a report within a week, he said. He said order was given to stop cultivation of Piranha. Asked about the worries of fish farmers, he said they should prove that they are cultivating Thai Chanda not Piranha. Prof. Dr. Muklesur Rahman, Head of Fisheries Biology and Genetics Department of BAU Fisheries Faculty who has been working on Piranha fish since 2002 told the Daily Star that its cultivation is harmful (Daily Star, September 10, 2007).

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