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FISH WITH TOXIC FLESH

There are no simple rules to tell edible fish from those with poisonous flesh. The most common toxic fish are shown in Figure 8-2. All of these fish contain various types of poisonous substances or toxins in their flesh and are dangerous to eat. They have the following common characteristics:

  • Most live in shallow water around reefs or lagoons.
  • Many have boxy or round bodies with hard shell-like skins covered with bony plates or spines. They have small parrotlike mouths, small gills, and small or absent belly fins. Their names suggest their shape.

In addition to the above fish and their characteristics, barracuda and red snapper fish may carry ciguatera, a toxin that accumulates in the systems of fish that feed on tropical marine reefs.

Without specific local information, take the following precautions:

  • Be very careful with fish taken from normally shallow lagoons with sandy or broken coral bottoms. Reef-feeding species predominate and some may be poisonous.
  • Avoid poisonous fish on the leeward side of an island. This area of shallow water consists of patches of living corals mixed with open spaces and may extend seaward for some distance. Many different types of fish inhabit these shallow waters, some of which are poisonous.
  • Do not eat fish caught in any area where the water is unnaturally discolored. This may be indicative of plankton that cause various types of toxicity in plankton-feeding fish.
  • Try fishing on the windward side or in deep passages leading from the open sea to the lagoon, but be careful of currents and waves. Live coral reefs drop off sharply into deep water and form a dividing line between the suspected fish of the shallows and the desirable deep-water species. Deepwater fish are usually not poisonous. You can catch the various toxic fish even in deep water. Discard all suspected reef fish, whether caught on the ocean or the reef side.

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