The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Sunday, August 21, 1994                TAG: 9408210061
SECTION: LOCAL                    PAGE: B11  EDITION: FINAL 
DATELINE: RALEIGH                            LENGTH: Short :   41 lines


He was fishing for catfish, so Jon Beachum expected his catch to have a set of whiskers when he reeled in his line at Shelley Lake.

This fish had a set of something entirely different: Scores of stunningly sharp teeth jutting out from an overshot lower jaw.

``I knew what it was,'' the Chesapeake man said of his catch Tuesday. ``My first thought was, `What the heck was it doing in the lake?' ''

Beachum's impression was confirmed Friday: The fish was a piranha.

The piranha, a tropical fish native to South American lakes and rivers, is illegal in North Carolina, even as an aquarium fish, because of a bad habit of eating other fish.

They bother humans only when they're stranded in a pool with no food and are starving. That wasn't the case in food-rich Shelley Lake.

``This sucker was well-fed,'' said Bill Collart, assistant fisheries biologist with the state Wildlife Resources Commission.

Although it is illegal to possess a live piranha in North Carolina, some folks just can't resist getting one for an aquarium. Then they get tired of trying to keep it fed, or the fish gets too big - Beachum's was about 10 inches long and weighed about a pound.

So they dump the fish into the nearest lake.

Beachum, who took his catch home and put it in the freezer, said he's willing for the state to send the fish to the Smithsonian Institution for examination and positive identification, as long as he is assured it won't be damaged.

He wants to get it mounted and hung on his wall.

``You can tell a lot of fish stories, but few of them you can back up,'' Beachum said. by CNB