Bathers attacked by piranhas

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Over 100 beachgoers have been treated for fish bites in north east Brazil after piranhas started to attack people.

Visitors to the artificial dammed lake near to the town of Jose de Freitas in the Piaui province were left with bitten toes and heels and some were even hospitalised after the fish started to attack due to lack of food.

The area, which is used as an inland beach resort, has been besieged with problems due to the overabundance of Red-bellied piranhas (Pygocentrus nattereri) and lack of natural predators.  

Romildo Mafra, a local environment official said: "Since they have no predators, piranhas have started attacking people on the beach."

Jeremy Wade, presentor of Animal Planet’s River Monsters thinks this may not just be about a lack of predators but more to do with devoted parent fish protecting their nests. He is quoted in Discovery News:

"The only way to avoid this is to keep out of the shallow areas at these times, but unfortunately during these months both humans and piranhas are drawn to the same water: what's a good place for piranhas to breed in is also (normally) good water for humans to bathe in."

Despite this, authorities are trying to control the problem by adding 100,000 Tilapia into the water to both attack the piranhas and to act as food. They also intend to add a further 200,000 fish – including Peacock bass which eat the eggs of piranhas – over the following months, as well as a net to protect bathers!

Other schemes have included an education programme to encourage bathers not to throw food into the water, and another to allow fishermen to fish for the piranhas. Despite the reluctance of the local fishermen to catch these fish due to destruction of their nets, this was fairly successful and resulted in over 1000 fish being caught in 40 days.

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