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    The Sickness from Eating Fish You Probably Don't Know About 

    March 03, 2021 3 min read

    The Sickness from Eating Fish You Probably Don't Know About 

    Noob Spearo listener - “Hey Shrek, just listening to your description in a previous Noob Spearo Podcast on the episode of mild ciguatera symptoms that you had after eating raw, smoked or cooked Mackerel. My brother sent me some info aboutScombroid Poisoningwhich can have similar symptoms to Ciguatera...have you heard of it before?”

    Several months ago, I did a reef trip with two buddies up to the Bunker Group off 1770. We took 6 Spanish Mackerel all around the 15-18kg weight range. They were bloody good fish and I love eating Spanish. 

    I'll eat it Sashimi style, shallow fried or my personal fav, smoked. 

    These fish were all taken within an 8 hour period, immediately bled and put in an ice slurry in a 250L esky. Upon arrival at home that night (around midnight after the 6 hour return drive home to Brisbane) the fish were shared out 3 ways and I kept mine on ice in another esky in my garage. At approximately 10am the next day I got up and went to work processing the fish. I filleted them, vacuum packed them and then most of it was put in my freezer. I did however take a quantity to my buddy's place for him and his family. In return he smoked a few fillets for me. As usual, I was a glutton and ate around 1kg of smoked Spanish over the preceding few days. 

    It was within that timeframe that I started to feel like shit. 

    Specifically, I became chronically tired and needed daytime naps (over the following 2-3 weeks). I felt weak and had sore joints and I started to get regular headaches which I very seldomly experience. I started to think I had accumulated too much Ciguatera in my body so I called my mates (within the first few days). Neither of them were experiencing anything like I was. Good news but they had only had small quantities and so I put them on the alert. 

    I still think that I had Ciguatera Poisoning and not Scombroid Poisoning for a few reasons. One is the specific symptoms. Let's have a side by side look at the symptoms:

    Ciguatera vs Scombroid

    Ciguatera Symptoms

    • Diarrhea
    • Vomiting
    • Headaches
    • Itchiness
    • Muscle Aches
    • Parathesia (such as reversal in feeling e.g. hot feels cold)
    • Dizziness, Vertigo and Nausea
    • Weakness 
    • Bradycardia/Tachycardia (low/high heart rate)
    • Hypotension/Hypertension (low/high blood pressure)

    Scombroid Symptoms

    • Facial flushing/sweating
    • Burning-peppery taste in the mouth dizziness
    • Nausea
    • Headache
    • Tachycardia
    • Cold-like symptoms
    • Can develop into rash/hives on face/body
    • Diarrhea and abdominal cramping

    Scombroid symptoms present rapidly (within minutes or a few hours) and are caused by eating spoiled fish usually from the scombridae fish family (tunas and mackerels). Symptoms usually last for approximately four to six hours and rarely exceed one to two days.

    Ciguatera fish poisoning is a form of food poisoning caused by the consumption of fish that have accumulated a type of toxin called ciguatoxins. Ciguatoxins are produced by dinoflagellates of the genusGambierdiscusin warm tropical waters. Dinoflagellates are found on algae and coral and are consumed by herbivorous fish species. As these species are preyed upon by larger predatory species the toxin can accumulate in them to the point where they are toxic to humans. This process is called biomagnification. The symptoms can last from weeks to years. 


    How to prevent Scombroid poisoning: Cooking, smoking, canning, or freezing will not destroy histamine in contaminated fish. Proper handling of fish is the best preventative. Bleed and immediately store fish in an ice slurry. 

    How to prevent Ciguatera poisoning: Seek local knowledge on which fish should be avoided. Eat small quantities of fish known to carry amounts of Ciguatoxin. If symptoms appear, stop consumption. For more discussion and info on Ciguatera,listen to this episode with Levi Brown who contracted a significant dose of Ciguatera Poisoning. 

    My Experience: Likely Ciguatera not Scombroid poisoning

    My symptoms persisted for several weeks which leads me to believe I had accumulated too much Ciguatoxin in my body and there seems to be a threshold before you present symptoms. Also a month after I hadn't had symptoms, I ate some more albeit a smaller quantity and the symptoms came back for a few days but not as severe. We had also cared for the fish about as well as can be expected so I don’t think it was spoiled. I also gave the Spanish away in smaller quantities and no one else got sick. This whole experience makes me gun shy on eating Spanish Mackerel particularly from up North BUT I’ll still eat it, because it's bloody yum. I’ll just adjust portion sizes and be wary. 

    For more info on this, read these articles. Thanks @mackenzie.logan for the query too mate!

    Have you had Ciguatera or Scombroid Poisoning?