After seizing piranhas from shops, Dubai reaffirms its ban on the fish

Demand from collectors was encouraging pet shops to import and sell piranhas, the municipality says.

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DUBAI // Demand from collectors was encouraging pet shops to import and sell piranhas, the municipality said yesterday as it reaffirmed its ban on the sale of the fish in the emirate. During raids on pet shops on Sunday, officials seized Dh2,000 (US$545) worth of red-bellied piranhas, the most popular species. They did not specify a number, but the fish have been selling for Dh60 and up.

The fish are to be given to aquariums for display. "We slapped fines of Dh500 on at least three shops for keeping this fish," said Essam Sharaf, the head of veterinary services at Dubai Municipality's public health services department. Several other shops had been let off with warnings. For reasons that were unclear, piranhas had grown in popularity in recent months, Mr Sharaf said. "We learn that people ask for this fish at shops from time to time. They are rarely on display but were found to be sold at some shops."

The fish, which are native to South American rivers, were banned from Dubai's pet trade, he said, because of their dangerous carnivorous nature. Piranhas have a bulldog-like face with a large lower jaw and sharp, tightly packed triangular teeth. "Just as tigers and monkeys are not allowed to be sold here, piranha is also considered dangerous. However, some people try to sell them illegally," Mr Sharaf said.

Meanwhile, staff at several pet shops said the selling of piranhas was a common practice. One pet shop worker said that others would not say whether they had the fish in stock because they feared being raided. Piranhas "are available, but right now they may not be as easy to come by because of the recent raids". He said he knew of a shop that had displayed a piranha and had been selling the fish for Dh60 about three weeks ago.

"Bigger ones can be sold for Dh100. They can be bought in the black market here, and the sellers here in Dubai are getting them from Sharjah and Al Ain," he added. "But you can get whatever you want on the black market, from tigers to snakes. You name it, somebody will be able to get them for you."