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Editorial: The river that bites

Cleveland gets a strange tropical visitor

Wednesday, October 07, 1998

Cleveland has a river that was once so thick with sludge it burned, and now, the same river, the Cuyahoga, has yielded one of the world's most dangerous fish, a piranha, to a very surprised fisherman.

Is that a fun town over there or what?

Piranha, of course, are nothing to fool with. These fish, attracted by the scent of blood, can reduce a large animal to bones in a very brief period, and it is cold comfort, though not much, that this fish was caught in the river before it found Lake Erie.

While these fish, native to the lakes and rivers of South America, rarely attack people (a comfort only if you are not the rare exception), they are known to have voracious appetites for native fish, amphibians and other water animals.

The question is how did the piranha get into the Cuyahoga and does he still have some buddies out there?

The first is the easier question. Importers of rare and exotic fish have for years peddled these beasts of the water to aquarium owners seeking critters less common than guppies and angel fish. And when the pet piranha get large enough to be pesky - as in demanding more and more meat - they get dropped in rivers and streams to fend for themselves. They have survived mainly in the lakes and streams of the Southeast.

Some states have banned the importation of piranhas, and so have some nations, such as Vietnam, fearing the effect of their introduction into flooded rice paddies.

It's worrisome that such a cannibal was fished from the Cuyahoga, but, looking on the bright side, at least the water quality is good enough to support strange guests.

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