The reward for catching piranhas was withdrawn after it became apparent that more of the fish could be released into the river as a result. (Photo/Xinhua)
The local government of Liuzhou in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region has ended its hunt for rogue piranha fish after offering a reward which attracted thousands of hopeful fishers to local rivers. The quest to capture the troublesome fish — whose presence in the river is unexplained — has become farcical, with online retailers offering to sell and deliver piranhas to the region for 12 yuan (US$1.80) apiece.
The reward of 1,000 yuan (US$160) for each piranha caught was offered on July 9, after a local man had his palm bitten by one of the carnivorous South American fish when he took his dog to the Liujiang river to bathe last week. The man caught the fish and took it home, whereupon one of his curious friends got too close to the fish and was also bitten.
To appease public fears over flesh-eating fish in local rivers, the Liuzhou government assembled fishing experts to set up a huge net in the river, though they failed to trap any piranhas. The reward nonetheless became a death sentence on other aquatic life in the river as thousands of locals swarmed to the riverside and hauled over 90 kilograms of various unoffending fish from the water.
Ads offering to sell piranhas proliferated meanwhile on Taobao, China's leading online trading platform, with one vendor offering express delivery of piranhas for US$1.80 per fish from Ningbo in the coastal province of Zhejiang — some 1,600 kilometers from Liuzhou, according to state broadcaster China National Radio.
Internet users said the whole affair has quickly become a local entertainment industry, echoing the scenes in the movie Jaws where a reward for the capture of the marauding great white shark gives rise to a swarm of amateurs rushing to their boats with a variety of ill-advised schemes. Other netizens with clearer heads have expressed the likelihood that more piranhas will be found in local rivers in the future if rewards are offered, as people may buy them cheaply and release them deliberately. A netizen going by the name "qiuchiyoyo" pointed out that the Taobao offer is a great deal as the buyer will be able to make a profit of 900 yuan (US$140) from the reward after the costs of the fish plus delivery are deducted.
To prevent such unscrupulous behavior, the local aquafarming and animal husbandry bureau said members of public who have caught a piranha must report to the bureau, which will examine the location where the fish was found along with police and officials. The finder will be made to return the money if the fish is found to have been purchased from the internet or obtained illegally, said the bureau's chief Wei Yongwen, according to China National Radio.
The bureau called a press conference on Thursday afternoon to announce the results of the campaign — no piranhas caught — and the end of the hunt.