Pacu Problem: Tucson man runs rescue to keep piranha-like fish out of our lakes

Protecting the Pacu: fisherman helps keep invasive fish from lakes

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - You can find James Skay at Silverbell Lake each week.

"I usually do pretty fair," he said. Each fish poses a challenge. "I enjoy fighting the fish. I don't jerk them in. I play them."

But there maybe a bigger issue to tackle.

"They said somewhere at a lake, they're supposed to have piranhas in there," Skay asked. "Why would you even buy a piranha?"

That's because they really aren't piranhas after all.

They’re actually called pacu - fish with human-like teeth, who eat our native vegetation when people dump them in our lakes.

One of them was found at Silverbell last year. People often buy them as pets without assuming the proper responsibility for them.

"They're out of their mind," Skay said. "I just can't understand why they do that."

It's a growing problem in our Southern Arizona lakes because these types of fish ... grow rather large themselves.

In Tucson, though, there's someone who knows a thing or two about fish like pacu.

"They say they're a giant man-eating piranha, that's not the case," said Don Saracino, who runs the Arizona Pacu Fish Rescue in Tucson. "We call them water puppies. Giant vegetarian piranha."

Saracino has loved fish for decades.

He said pacu can make good pets under the right circumstances, just like any other pet fish.

"What was going on is the big box stores were selling these fish saying they're ten inches," Saracino explained. The fish can grow up to 35 inches.

With his passion for protecting pacu, Saracino runs his rescue out of his home in the right sized tank - a giant swimming pool in his backyard.

"I know what's going to happen is ... we're not going to be able to have them," Saracino said, citing those who dump their fish in the lakes.

It’s why he runs the rescue - to make sure people who want these fish as pets can.

"If you're in a bad mood, you can always spend time with your pet," said Saracino. "It's going to make you feel better."

Of course, it's also to protect our lakes, like Silverbell, where fishermen like Skay want the right bite on their fishing line, with no surprises.

"I don't see where you could find a better place to relax," said Skay.

Saracino started Arizona Pacu Fish Rescue within the last year.

Since it began, he said he’s constantly saving pacu that people bought not realizing how big they actually get.

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