Undercover wildlife officers bought three red-bellied piranhas in West Palm Beach last week and charged a woman who sold them with three misdemeanors, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Officers organized an undercover sting when they learned of Kristina M. Dempsey’s intent to sell the piranhas through a Craigslist post. This was part of an effort to keep foreign, invasive species out of Florida’s waterways.

Evan D’Alessandro is the visiting assistant professor of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. He told the Sun Sentinel, “It’s not because of their danger to humans, it’s because of their danger to the environment. They are apex predators. They’re at the top of the food chain. Our network of canals and freshwater retention ponds and the Everglades is very similar to their native habitat, and they could easily get a foothold.”

This predatory fish poses as much of a risk to Florida and the state’s native flora and fauna as invasive Burmese pythons, snakeheads and other non-native species.

Dempsey, of Lake Worth, wanted to get rid of the fish since their all-meat diet clouded her fish tank. She was astonished that her decision to sell the fish instead of dump them resulted in a sting operation.

“I’m not irresponsible enough to let them go in fresh water because I have respect for the environment and the ecosystem,” Dempsey said. “If you do have animals like this, instead of setting you up and treating you like a criminal, they should offer a way you could hand them over and surrender them if you don’t want them anymore.”

Unfortunately unbeknownst to Dempsey, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission actually grants amnesty days throughout the state where various species of animals can be turned in without punishment. They can also be surrendered outside of amnesty days. More information is at www.myfwc.com.

The confiscated fish were killed and frozen to preserve as evidence.

Image from Phil Whitehouse (Phillie Casablanca) on the flickr Creative Commons

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