Monday, August 16, 1999
Locally made kit
YEARS ago, while sailing in the Caribbean, my partner
and I caught a 3-foot-long barracuda. Oh, we were excited about that fish.
I can still see it sparkling in the sun as we hauled the magnificent
predator into the cockpit. Then, without a moment's hesitation, we killed
it, cooked it and ate the whole thing.
That was so dumb, it makes me cringe just writing it.
But our degrees in marine biology and medicine were still fairly new, and
we didn't realize the danger we were courting. We later learned that
barracudas are notorious for transmitting the fish poisoning called
ciguatera, undetectable by sight, smell or taste.
Today, if we caught a barracuda, we might still eat it,
but not until we checked it for safety.
We would clean the fish, then whip out our handy Cigua-Check
test kit. If the fish tested positive for the poison, we would recycle it
back to the sea. If negative, we would enjoy an excellent meal without
fear of illness.
Cigua-Check is a relatively new ciguatera fish poison
detection kit made by a Honolulu company called Oceanit Test Systems.
Researchers there used the findings of Yoshitsugi Hokama, a UH research
scientist who has spent a lifetime studying ciguatera, to develop the kit.
CIGUATERA is a poisoning people usually get from eating
reef fish. The primary culprit in this poisoning is a single-cell marine
organism called Gambierdiscus toxicus. This naturally occurring organism
sometimes blooms among seaweeds. When plant-eating reef fish graze on
these seaweeds, they also swallow the ciguatera-causing Gambierdiscus
The toxins produced by this organism do not make fish
sick but remain in their flesh and organs. When larger fish eat these
grazers, the toxin transfers to the predators' flesh and organs with no
apparent harm to the fish.
People aren't so fortunate. When humans eat fish
containing the toxins of Gambierdiscus toxicus, they get ciguatera fish
poisoning. Although rarely fatal, ciguatera symptoms are unpleasant and
can last for months.
Ciguatera is the most common cause of seafood poisoning
in the United States. Since the toxin is associated with coral reefs,
Hawaii and Florida have the highest incidences. Hawaii averages about 80
cases per year. Approximately 50,000 cases a year are recorded worldwide.
THE Cigua-Check test kit could reduce those numbers
dramatically. It contains an easy-to-use system that reliably tests fish
flesh for ciguatera poison.
I gave one of these kits, which costs $25 and contains
enough supplies to test five fish, to a friend who often fishes with other
North Shore men.
After using the five test sticks, my friend reported
that the kit was easy to use, but his fellow anglers felt the test took
too long (about 50 minutes) and is too expensive.
Researchers at Oceanit realize their test takes time to
use, and they're working on that.
As for cost, how much is good health worth? When you
factor in the other costs of fishing, $5 is a small price to pay to avoid
a nasty, long-lasting illness.
To my mind there's no excuse for not using Cigua-Check
on any reef fish caught in Hawaii or anywhere else. To throw these fish
away without testing is wasteful, and to risk illness from eating them
untested is foolish.
Cigua-Check kits are available at various local stores.
For locations, call Oceanit's hot line at 539-2345, or check their Web