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.