Employees of the Vermont Marble Power Division of Omya made a startling discovery near their Sutherland Plant in Proctor, Vt., last week.
The group noticed an odd-looking fish in the water of Otter Creek. The fish was captured and later identified by Vermont fisheries biologist Shawn Good as being a Pacu - a cousin of the ferocious Piranha that is native to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins of South America.
Good believes the fish was set free after being removed from a private aquarium it had most likely outgrown. It measured 15 inches and weighed 2.5 pounds.
While owners may think they are doing their pets a favor by setting them free, the practice can be devastating to local ecosystems, Good said.
"Illegal aquarium releases are a common source of exotic species introductions in the U.S.," said Good. "More than 38 species of unwanted fish and dozens of plants, crayfish, and snails have become established in waters of the U.S as a result."
Some infestations - like Eurasian watermilfoil and the northern snakehead fish - have cost millions of dollars for control and management. Even then, these species remain, having forever altered the environment, Good said.
Both Vermont and New York have laws in place making it illegal to release fish into public waters.
"It seems that the general public is largely unaware of the dangers posed by releasing aquarium fish," said Good. "I can't stress enough how serious this is."
It's not the first time Good has seen exotic species released into local waterbodies.
In 2005, a fisherman caught an Oscar - also a South American fish species from the Amazon region - while bass fishing in Lake Hortonia in Rutland County. That same year, a Middlebury College professor found a tropical catfish in Lake Dunmore, in Addison County. Even the common goldfish has been found living, and unfortunately even thriving, in some Vermont and New York lakes and ponds.
Good said in this case, the Pacu released into Otter Creek would never have survived because it requires a warm climate. But, that isn't the case with every exotic species, like the northern snakehead or even the common goldfish.
"There are many species of common aquarium fish that could establish populations if they were released, and that could cause immense damage to native fish populations and ecosystems," he said.
More on the state's new regulation
banning boats on backcountry ponds
I've received plenty of feedback from anglers who believe the state was off base to ban small boats and canoes from being left on remote trout waters.
Perhaps most telling were the comments I received from fishermen who believe they will no longer have access to some ponds once the boats there are removed.
One fisherman commented on my blog at www.denpubs.com by saying, "I'm 72 years old and cannot carry a canoe any longer. Why take away the only chance I have left to enjoy some backcountry fishing? Will the lean-tos be next?"
These are the folks I feel the worst for ... and we will all be in the same boat someday (no pun intended.)
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications and an avid outdoorsman. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on his blog at www.denpubs.com.