The father/son duo of John Anthony Sr and John Anthony Jr, bagged a ‘Pacu’ in a pond near the Village of Lemonal, that is a part of the Savannah Wetland west of the New River Lagoon in the Orange Walk District bordering the Belize District.The fish was speared on Valentine Day while the gentlemen were on a routine fishing expedition. Both John Jr. and Sr. realized that they had never encountered the species before and surmised that it was not native to the area or perhaps even the country of Belize. Their hunch proved right with a little ‘Google’ research upon their return to the village. A local TV station reported the find thus: “A new species of freshwater fish commonly known as “pacu” has been discovered in the New River Lagoon by fishermen from nearby Lemonal. Pacu is an omnivorous fish that originated in South America and is related to the piranha.”
The ‘Pacu’ or ‘Cachama’ or ‘Colossoma’ is a native of northern or tropical South America and is widely known in the Guianas, Suriname and Brazil, according to local fisheries and marine consultant George Myvett who first reported the find on social media.There are no known previous reports or sightings of the fish in Belize. The ‘Pacu’ measured 32 inches in length and 18 lbs in weight. Shortly after completing their internet research the ‘Pacu’ was confined to the Anthony’s dinner table, with a small portion of the ‘Wings’ or bony flanks reserved for ‘corning’ or Salting and Smoking. This is a familiar mode of preservation of fish and meats in rural Belize.
The ‘Pacu’ formerly classified as Colossoma macroporum has been revised to the scientific name Piaractus brachypomus is related to the Piranhas – a group of South American freshwater fishes falsely portrayed by Hollywood as blood thirsty carnivores that would make short work of any person who unfortunately fell into the water.
The immense distances between northern South America and Belize, coupled with impassable and impossible geographic and ecological barriers, would eliminate any presence of the ‘Pacu’ in Belize as a function of natural events. It is likely that the fish would have escaped from Captive Husbandry or Aquaculture situations in either Yucatan México, or western Guatemala. One cannot however rule out introductions from the pet trade, vis-a-vis aquarium escapes, or wilful releases from said Mexico and/or Guatemala, as well as from within Belize.
The ‘Pacu’ is an attractive candidate for aquaculture given its largely vegetarian diet, docile nature, fast growth rate and low bone to carcass ratio.According to Mr. Myvett, further research on the capture or discovery of the Pacu (Piaractus brachypomus) in the lagoonal wetlands of Lemonal has yielded the presence of the species in Lake Peten-Itza in North-eastern Guatemala. Two specimens of the species were captured in the Lake in May of 2017 by an artisanal fisher. The prevailing opinion is that the presence of the exotic species in Lake Peten-Itza is a function of escapes or releases from aquarium situations. It has been established that one of the three ‘Pet Stores’ in the vicinity of the Lake sold juveniles of said Piaractus brachypomus species.
The presence of the species in the Lemonal Village area of North-Central Belize may be a function of introductions associated with major flooding in the Peten Area and the western and northern portions of Belize in late October-early November 2020. One cannot also rule out the possibility of introduction from Yucatan México, or indeed from the aquarium trade here in Belize.It is obvious that much more work needs to be done in establishing the presence of the Pacu in the Lemonal wetlands. This would of course include studied and in depth scientific efforts, as well as lay person driven anecdotal inputs.