5 arrested for selling piranhas in Philippines

Posted at 12/03/2011 6:11 PM | Updated as of 12/03/2011 6:11 PM

MANILA - Philippine police said they have arrested five people for selling carnivorous piranhas, raising fears over what could happen if the fish got into the local waterways.

At least 62 live piranha fingerlings were seized from the group after a sting operation where a fisheries officer posed as a buyer late Thursday, Senior Superintendent Jude Santos said.

"We immediately turned them over to the Bureau of Fisheries and their expert determined they were piranhas... I think they have killed them by now," Santos told AFP.

The fish, known for their sharp teeth, an appetite for meat, and their ability to strip flesh from a carcass, were being sold to collectors of exotic fish to be placed in aquariums, the police chief said.

But if they got into local waterways, they could breed quickly and pose a threat to local fish -- and even humans, Santos warned.

The five arrested refused to say where they got the fish, which is native to South America.

The suspects will be charged with illegal importation of a prohibited fish and could face six months to four years in jail.

The Philippines has only recently come to grips with the threat of invasive species from abroad which can multiply, displacing local species and harming the environment.