Ciguatera, if you’ve ever had it I’ll bet you’ll never eat another Barracuda that was caught in the Florida Keys

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Ciguatera is a funny word but what is it? It’s fish poisoning that 50,000 people around the world get each year. At least that’s how many reported cases there are on an average. Many cases are never recorded in places like the small islands of the Caribbean and The Pacific. The effects of this neurotoxin can be from mild complaints to coma to death.

The toxin is a dinoflagellate which occurs in algae . It’s a neurotoxin which can damage or destroy tissues of the nervous system. It’s the most prevalent marine toxin in the world. It accumulates in the body of fish. Any stress either by man or nature such as hurricanes , algae blooms, drenching rains or dredging can cause an increase in the toxin in the algae. The toxin will be found in the local area where the fish was caught. But not all fish of that area or species will have the toxin. Neither cooking nor freezing the fish will destroy the toxin.


The barracuda is the most common fish to carry Ciguatera. grouper , amberjack, eels, sea bass, spanish mackerel, red snapper, parrot fish and surgeon fish are a few of the other common fish that have been known to carry this toxin.

Ciguatera fish poisoning is usually short-lived. The signs of poisoning will usually go away within several days. The average time is eight to nine days. In a severe poisoning case the neurological symptoms have lasted for weeks to months to years. In some cases after the victim has recovered, the symptoms will reappear months and years later. Studies have shown that a drastic diet change or drinking alcohol can cause the return of the symptoms. Less than 1% of the people affected by this fish poisoning dies from it. The larger the fish you eat that is carrying this toxin the more likely you are to die from it.

In the past it was believed that you could test the meat of the fish with silver. It was thought that if you put a dime (an old silver dime) or a silver spoon into the meat and it turned black that it carried the toxin. Another test was to take a piece of the meat of the fish and hold it to your lips to see if it caused tingling or numbness. Neither one of these tests is reliable. They are just bull. But they do sound good. There’s a test called mouse bioassay. It’s the clinical test for Ciguatera. A piece of the fish in question is fed to a mouse and if he dies in three to four days then the fish tested positive for the toxin.

Barracuda In Miami there’s a ban on selling barracuda. In Puerto Rico there’s a ban on selling both barracuda and amberjack. And in Australia there’s a ban on selling red bass.

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta reported that you have the best chance of getting fish poisoning from fish taken from the waters of Hawaii and Florida. Hawaii has a strict rule stating that all fish sold commercially must be tested.

To avoid getting Ciguatera use these guidelines:

Don’t eat fish that weigh more than five to six pounds.

Don’t eat the internal organs, roe, or viscera, this is where the toxin accumulates. Always remove the blood line.

Listen to local knowledge about which fish to avoid.

If you think you’ve been poisoned by eating a fish get medical attention immediately. Freeze any uneaten portions of the fish.

Here’s the seafood hotline number 800-332-4010. These are supposed to be the people that can tell you the fish that are currently affected with the toxin and the local area. Personally I’ve never used this service, I listen to local knowledge and I don’t eat barracuda of any size.

There have been breakthroughs in the treatment of Ciguatera with the use of intravenous mannitol. They’re having remarkable recoveries from people with mild symptoms to people who were comatose. This treatment has also been given to very young babies as young as four months old. Each victim’s condition improved dramatically. This would be good information to know if you ever get fish poison.


Mannitol Administration

Route: IV


1 gm/kg Body Weight

Mannitol Injection, USP, 25%

12.5 grams/50 cc vial

Standard Man = 75 kg

75 gr = 6 * 12.5 mg vial

= 6 * 50 cc = 200 cc

Additive: 700 cc D5W or .9 NaCl

Infusion Rate: 250 - 350 cc/hr

Total Infusion Time: 3-4 hrs

If help is needed with this treatment here’s a couple of phone numbers to call 305-361-4619 or 305-661-0774.

The first recorded symptoms of Ciguatera were in the 1500's by the Spanish explorers to Cuba . They thought they got it from a small snail they ate that they called “Cigua.”

In the Pacific the first recorded death was in Tahiti. It was on the Bounty, yes the same ship from the famous book and movie, “Mutiny on the Bounty.” The ships doctor died. See they had a fish feast and “Old Bacchus died not of drink as might have been supposed, but of eating a poisonous fish.”

Just the other day there was an article in the local paper here in the Florida Keys about two fishermen from Marathon who had fallen victim to the toxin. They had been fishing west of Key West and had eaten meat from a 60 pound grouper. One of the men died and the other one is still having problems. He will faint. No warning. So he has sold his commercial boat for fear of fainting and falling off and drowning. These fishermen had eaten the poisonous fish about a year ago. A 60 pound grouper is old enough to have accumulated an enormous amount of Ciguatera poison.

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