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Red Bellied Piranha Caught In Suburban Houston Lake

HOUSTON, Texas ~ (Houston Chronicle/ AP) ~ When a young girl baited a hook with a piece of hot dog wiener, she reeled in a fish tale to astound all anglers.

The pre-teen girl caught a red-bellied piranha on August 27th in the 23-acre lake at Tom Bass I Recreational Park, located in south Houston at the intersection of State Highway 288 and Beltway 8. The flapping, snapping, hand-sized fish was perch-shaped, but with a blunt head and a mouth full of razor-sharp, pointed, wedge-shaped teeth. Adults with the girl knew they had a fish that warranted investigation, so they contacted Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials. TP&WD staff made an identification of the fish, which was confirmed by outside experts.

It's only the second piranha ever verified in Texas waters and the first one caught in nearly 30 years. The other documented case was taken in 1982 from the Boerne City Reservoir in Kendall County. Possessing and releasing live piranhas is prohibited by Texas law, yet every year increasing numbers of piranhas and other prohibited fish are found in Texas waters. "Over the past few years we've seen more and more of them brought in," said Robert Goodrich, TP&WD assistant chief for fisheries law enforcement, "the internet has made it a whole lot easier for people to get them." First offense for possession of illegal fish is a Class C misdemeanor with amaximum fine of $500. A person caught releasing a live, prohibited fish faces a Class B misdemeanor for the first offense, which can mean jail time and heavier fines.

Fisheries managers worry prohibited species could establish self-sustaining populations that could outcompete, prey on or otherwise overwhelm native species. Exotic, invasive fish, such as the armored catfish, tilapia and Asian grass carp, have already established self-sustaining populations in Texas waters, causing damage to freshwater ecosystems. Piranhas, which have been documented in waterways in a dozen states, have not established populations in North America where they have been found, but the possibility still exists. Research indicates piranhas, native to the Amazon River in South America, can't survive when water temperatures drop below 50. But the American Fisheries Society research indicates might be able to "overwinter" in parts of the Deep South. including the southern third of Texas and most of Florida.

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