Ciguatera might sound like the Spanish word for a cigarette but it is actually the illness you get from eating fish that have the ciguatoxin poison in their flesh. While cases are not extremely common, they do exist. It is important that you be aware of this toxin if you are fishing a lot and regularly eating what you catch in warmer waters.

You will know if you have the nasty illness soon after eating contaminated flesh. The symptoms are numerous and hit the body really fast. Ciguatera causes nausea, pain, cardiac and neurological symptoms. There are roughly about 50,000 poisonings reported around the world each year. Poisoning rarely causes death but the symptoms are often much more severe in children.

The toxin, ciguatoxin actually lies in the flesh of fish. Ciguatoxin has absolutely no flavour and no smell. You can’t see it if you are looking for it.

If you are fishing in warmer waters, it is an issue. Ciguatoxin is only found in fish in warmer waters. So if you are fishing in the northern areas of Australia, it is something to be wary about. Furthermore, different fishing organisations list different fish as a risk. For example, Red Bass, Coral Trout and Mackerel are commonly listed but even Queenfish, Red Emperor and Trevally are listed as fish that could potentially contain the toxin. So how to take the warnings seriously?

Considering the effects of the toxin, it is definitely worth taking the warnings seriously. Ciguatera symptoms differ depending on the amount of fish you’ve eaten. The symptoms also vary depending on the person. You can expect to feel very sick, you will vomit and you will have diarrhoea. That can spread to numbness in the fingers, hand, mouth and throat. You will probably feel very weak and have aches throughout your body. Some people even have difficulty breathing and some people have recurring symptoms every few years – even scarier if you ask me!


As far as I am concerned, the best way to avoid the chance of poisoning is to make sure you are informed as well as having a testing kit on hand if you are fishing fish that could potentially have the disease. Ciguatera home testing kits are available online and are worth the small investment if you are regularly taking your chances on high-risk species. I am not one who is big on believing wives tales.

Other ways to avoid the toxin include not eating the head, liver or any eggs (roe) of the key species as well as avoiding larger and older fish of the species ciguatoxin is found in. The smart thing to do is stay informed. If you want to know more about the nasty effects of the illness, check out what Jeff Herman has to say about his experience.


Do you have any experience with this or any other fish toxin? Share your experience through the comments section below.

Madeleine Park

Madeleine is a real green thumb and spends most of her time outdoors in her garden if she is not outdoors somewhere else.