How To Avoid And Treat Fish Poisoning

How To Avoid And Treat Fish Poisoning

Food poisoning is never fun, but food poisoning from fish can be the worst. Add to that, being stuck onboard a ship, and you’ll turn green just thinking about it.

Fishing is a big past time for many. It’s a great bonding experience for fathers and sons, and for some, there is nothing tastier than a fresh catch cooked right on the boat. While all this sounds wonderful, there is a danger lurking that sometimes cannot be avoided, and that’s fish poisoning. One of the worst fish food poisoning you can get is ciguetera.

Fish Poisoning

There have been reported cases where fishermen have become so ill by fish poisoning that they’ve died. Ciguatera poisoning is a common problem for those consuming tropical fish caught off their boat. These fish dine on toxin producing algae found on tropical reefs, but it’s hard to tell if the fish you’ve caught is contaminated or not. Aside from algae, the fish could have consumed other toxins, and that could include bacteria from human feces. Anchored boats out for the day typically have porta potties on board and where do you think human waste goes when it’s flushed off  the boat?


Micro-organisms filled with ciguatoxin float around tropical reefs in warm waters, and make a great dinner for tiny reef fish. When those fish get eaten by bigger fish, that just might be the fish that ends up on your fishing line and on your dish. Unable to flush the toxin from their system, the fish are not harmed, but the toxin gets stored in their flesh. These fish look no different from uncontaminated fish. They smell and taste the same, making it impossible to detect the toxin.

The bigger the fish you catch, and the older the fish, the more chances there are that the fish is contaminated with ciguatoxin, but not all fish swimming in the tropics are susceptible. It largely depends on what the fish feed on and what type of fish you’ve caught.

Types Of Fish Most Likely Affected By Cituagera Toxin

  • Amberjack
  • Barracuda
  • Eel
  • Grouper
  • Red Snapper
  • Sea Bass
  • Spanish Mackerel

Areas Most Likely To Have Contaminated Fish

  • Hawaii
  • Caribbean
  • Coastal central America

Ciguatera Fish Poisoning Symptoms

Not only do you fall ill with gastrointestinal symptoms, but you’ll also have neurological symptoms, both of which hit about 3 to 5 hours after ingesting the fish.

Symptoms include …

  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Painful defecation
  • Weakness
  • Vertigo
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Metallic Taste
  • Tingly sensation in arms and legs
  • Tingly sensation around mouth
  • General numbness

Severe Symptoms include all of the above, plus the following …

  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle pain
  • Hair loss
  • Toothache
  • Nail loss
  • Cold feels hot and hot feels cold
  • Muscle paralysis
  • Coma
  • Respiratory paralysis
  • Death

If you survive ciguatera fish poisoning, it may takes months or years to recover and be rid of your symptoms.

Identifying Cituagera Poisoned Fish

While there is no real way to identify a ciguatera poisoned fish, some old folk tales give you these methods …

  • The Silver Coin Test

Place a silver coin on your fish. If it goes black, it’s poisoned

  • The Sweet Potato Test

Cook your fish with a sweet potato. If it changes color, it’s poisoned

  • The Fly Test

Leave the fish out for a period of time and if the flies won’t touch it, it’s poisoned.

Since we all know what flies will land on, we know this can’t be true. In fact, none of these have any science to back them. There is no real way to tell a poisoned fish from an uncontaminated fish.

How To Avoid Ciguatera Poisoning

  • Do not eat fish that has been caught in tropical waters or near reefs.
  • Do not eat the gills, liver, guts, or internal organs, if yo must eat a fish caught near reefs or in tropical waters.
  • Cooking or freezing will not kill the cituagera toxin.

How To Treat Ciguatera Poisoning

  • Induce vomiting
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Activated charcoal
  • Benedryl to relieve itching
  • Osmotic diuretics can help
  • Amitriptylin and gabapentin can help with neural pain
  • Advil can help with pain
  • Seek professional medical care


There is no antidote, so you just have to ride it out. The symptoms can be severe, but it is rare that someone dies from it. Since freezing does not kill the ciguatera toxin, there is a potential danger to those in the United States who eat this fish that has been frozen and shipped.

The best way to avoid cituagera poisoning is to avoid catching fish off a boat in the tropics, and then cooking it on board to eat. Stay away from the high risk fish caught in those areas, even when dining in the United States. You will know if you are poisoned due to the violent reaction. Seek medical help if symptoms are severe, stay hydrated and rest as much as you can. Be safe.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here