Federal authorities reeled Queens fish dealer Joel Rakower on charges of smuggling more than 29,548 piranhas into New York City by having them tagged as docile silver tetras.
According to the Justice Department, Rakower, 66, imported the fish (worth $37,376) through his Jamaica company Transship Discounts Ltd. in 2011-2012 by having his Hong Kong supplier mislabel them, He then sold the fish to retailers across the country. They also stated that only 850 of the flesh-eaters have been recovered.
Although piranhas are native to the Amazon and other South American rivers, they can thrive in cooler northern waterways. They are extremely territorial and aggressive creatures, and are known to feed on mammals, as well as reptiles, amphibians, insects and other fish. As a result the government fears that any released by their owners into the “wild” could end up endangering the local ecosystems as well as pose a serious threat to humans and their pets.
Piranhas are currently illegal in New York City, which banned them in 2011, and 25 states.
Rakower, who has been in the tropical fish business for three decades, pleaded guilty an has agreed to pay $73,000 in fines and restitution, for what his lawyer, Barry Agulnick, stated was merely a “minor error in judgment. He and his company are scheduled to be sentenced April 24 in Brooklyn Federal court.