CDFW mailbag: Can piranha, pacu survive in California? Are Coho salmon surviving drought?
Q: I saw photos online of a fish with odd looking teeth that was caught in a lake in Bakersfield. Some people thought it might be a piranha. Did the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) look into this?
A: Yes, there were great photos which made it easy to identify the fish as a pacu.
Pacus are a popular tropical aquarium species that often outgrow their tanks and are unfortunately released by owners who no longer want them.
Pacu and piranha can be differentiated by the shape of their mouth and teeth. When the mouth of a pacu is opened the gap between the upper and lower lip form a squarish gap, whereas on the piranha the upper and lower lip form a V-shape. And while pacu teeth may appear sharp, they are no comparison to those of piranha, which are as sharp as razors.
Winter cold water temperatures probably would have taken the fish out if the angler hadn’t. Based on their tropical water temperature requirements, we do not anticipate pacus — or piranha either — are capable of invading California waters.
Q: What’s the status of the Coho salmon population in the Russian River?
A: Before the Russian River Coho Salmon captive broodstock program began at Warm Springs Hatchery in 2001, Coho salmon were close to extirpated from the Russian River basin.
Only a few juveniles remained, and these juveniles were used to start the broodstock program.
Over the past 10-15 years, adult Coho returning to the Russian River have fluctuated from approximately 100 to more than 700 a few years ago — with an average of around 300-500 fish.
The recent drought has resulted in fewer than 300 adult Coho returning last winter, 2020 to 2021. The majority of these adult returners are fish that were released as juveniles in Russian River tributaries through the program.
The program released between 100,000 and 230,000 Coho annually, with an average of approximately 180,000.
The number of adult Coho in the Russian River is indeed very low and very likely the result of a relative lack of suitable habitat, and especially a lack of adequate water, especially during the dry summer months.
The latter problem obviously is exacerbated by the current drought conditions.
Recovery of the endangered Central Coast Coho salmon will require continued habitat restoration, combined with other management actions such as population enhancement through genetically guided conservation hatchery intervention.
Q: I want to catch crab from a kayak and am confused by the regulations.
I live in Los Angeles, and I want to go off the coast and use crab traps and hoop nets. Are these allowed?
A: State regulations do not allow for the use of traps to recreationally take any species of crab in Southern California, south of Point Arguello in Santa Barbara County.
You may use hoop nets to recreationally take crabs south of Point Arguello, provided you follow the regulations in California Code of Regulations. Visit the CDFW’s Invertebrate Fishing Regulations web page for full text of the regulations at https://bit.ly/3m3bZhF.
Email CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov with questions for the CDFW.