CIGUATERA fish poisoning and Big Fishing Game

All you need to know about a big fishing game trip is here. If you go after big fishing game not all saltwater-fish are catch and eat. Now I don't mean to scare you all, but ciguatera poisoning must be considered in some places.

This normally non-fatal but debilitating poisoning occurs from eating some reef saltwater-fish in tropical areas. Two to three percent of severe cases are fatal and caused by respiratory system paralysis and failure.

The problem is caused by fish feeding on others that have consumed an organism called dino-flagellates that grow on specific algae, notably blue-green. There are approximately 300 saltwater-fish species suspected of causing poisoning. All about big fishing game and CIGUATERA fish poisoning

Which fish to watch out for

These include the surgeon fish, coral trout, red snapper, mackerel, queen fish, red emperor, sweet lip, barracuda and grouper. Current research shows that fish above 5lb (2.5kg) are worst as the toxins concentrate and are stronger the larger the fish becomes.

Any area where major reef disturbances have or are occurring there is a significantly increased risk of poisoning. This is after cyclones and hurricanes, pollution and any major natural reef disturbance.

The list of areas where it is endemic include Southern Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, American Samoa, Papua new Guinea, Virgin Islands, Bahamas and Australia Other research I have found is that certain crabs in Asia are also susceptible to poisoning. All about big fishing game and CIGUATERA fish poisoning


The symptoms usually appear in anything from one to 12 hours. The first stage lasts around 40 hours and is characterized by tiredness and profuse perspiration. Usually this may be accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. Longer lasting effects include blurred vision and sore eyes, tight chest pains, lack of muscular coordination and blood in the urine. There are long term effects that may last years that include tingling or numbness of the lips, hands and feet, aching joints, severe headaches and aching teeth. Also there is a strange effect of temperature sensory reversal, which means hot feels cold and vice versa.

I had an email once from a lady called Marianne, who informs me she has suffered and still suffers from the results of the neurotoxin involved. She advised that she was in hospital for 5 days and cost $8000 in medical bills. In her message she advises that one doesn’t necessarily have to be in an area of reef disturbance to pick up the toxin in fish. The toxin is 1,000 times more toxic than arsenic by volume, scary isn’t it? All about big fishing game and CIGUATERA fish poisoning


One method I have been told of by a charter skipper called Gail, is that you should rub the saltwater-fish liver on the lip and tongue, as this is where toxins accumulate the most. If the lip goes numb or tingling, the fish is suspect. It does work so don't be squeamish. A clever chap called Tim Lee advised me that the common fish liver to the lips detection test, the only one many of us know, may only indicate fish with high levels of toxin so therefore not a foolproof and reliable test. He pointed out that low toxin levels also can cause illness, and toxin accumulation.

The toxin is a fat soluble compound that takes a week to flush out of the body. Evidently there are cases where a pound a day of fish of low level toxin can cause quite serious poisoning by weeks end as accumulation rises to a significant level. The point made is that for safety the use of fish liver sampling is inherently flawed and unsafe, and this we all understand. He advises that the Cigua-Check detection test kit developed by Dr Yoshitsugi Hokami of University of Hawaii School of Medicine, has over 10000 tests in the field and a verified sensitivity for ciguatoxin of over 92%. This kit is the only one to verify toxin in fish flesh, and available worldwide in tackle shops, marine shops etc.

I have done some checks and the price is typically around $30 and the test time is around 45 minutes. I love to fish, and to eat a few of the catch, so the more I can get on this the better, believe me you don’t want to suffer the results. Now that you have got the perfect saltwater-fish, and you know it's safe, so let's go and enjoy it! All about big fishing game and CIGUATERA fish poisoning. All you need to know about a big fishing game trip is here.