This week a fish named Lord Pacu came to live with us. For those of you who aren’t familiar with pacus, they are often described as vegetarian piranhas. To help you visualize this, a pacu is to piranhas as Ferdinand, the flower-loving, bovine pacifist is to his bull fighting brethren. They are easy going, even friendly fish that eat almost anything (except other fish) and even enjoy being stroked by their human caretakers. They are native to South America where they are often raised on aquaculture farms for their meaty ribs. Here in America they are sold by chain pet stores as ornamental aquarium fish, despite the fact that they can eventually reach sizes of 2′ 3′, and more (click here to learn more).

Pacu fish

A Pacu

Lord Pacu’s adoption by me was the happy end result of a three month long search by his human family to find a new, larger home for him. They purchased him from a pet store without a real understanding of just how large he would get. They clearly loved him but could no longer keep him in their 50 gallon tank since he is now 12″ and will soon be longer still. When they found my reference to being enchanted by pacus in last winter’s NYTimes aquaponics article, followed by my descriptions in this blog of the struggles I have with harvesting and eating my fish (more on that in another blog), and saw the YouTube videos of the 300 gallon tank in my greenhouse, they knew they had found a new home for their beloved fish.

We arranged a time for the exchange and the entire family of four drove nearly an hour to wish Lord Pacu well in his new home. They arrived, full of concern, with the fish in a cooler. We checked the cooler and big tank water temperatures, satisfying ourselves that they were close enough not to harm the fish. I easily netted the beautiful, silver colored pacu in the cooler and introduced him to the tilapia and other pacu that were to become his new family. The kids watched the tank intently and convinced themselves that he had found the other pacu in the tank and had made friends.

They were so grateful, and my role so simple (whats one more mouth to feed, really?) that I started thinking about all the aquaponic gardeners I know throughout the U.S., and the world, who have large fish tanks and would be happy to provide a large, active, healthy new home for a pet pacu who has outgrown his own. And who, of course, would commit to keeping this fish as a pet and never think of it as food.

Apparently pacus outgrowing their tanks is a widespread problem among pacu owners. Here is an excerpt from a Facebook exchange I had with Lord Pacu’s mom, “The person I spoke with at the zoo said they get “many calls about pacus” and they just can’t take them. And Craigslist always has them out there. I saw one today with a “free to a good home” listing.”

So I ask you, my aquaponics audience, can aquaponic gardeners play a role in the rescue of a fish? Let me know what you think.